Margaret Hurley, the grande dame of North Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District who battled tax increases and the North-South Freeway during more than three decades in office, died recently, just 12 days shy of her 106th birthday.
A former teacher, Hurley took over a state House of Representatives seat from her husband in 1952 and easily held it until 1979, when she moved to the Senate. She was a lifelong Democrat who didn’t always toe the party line, an Irish Catholic conservative who opposed abortion and refused to vote for tax increases because, she said, her the constituents in her working class district couldn’t afford them.
Women were relatively rare in the Legislature when Hurley – whom everyone called Maggie – first took her House seat. Freshman were expected to “sit still and keep your mouth shut,” she recalled for an oral history. She did neither.
“She was very tenacious, a very strong woman for her time, because it was mostly a man’s world (in the Legislature),” Jeannine Roe, a former legislative aide, said.
Born Margaret Morse in Minnesota, she moved with her parents to Washington state at age 2, spent much of her early years on a farm in the Methow Valley and moved to Spokane at 13 to attend Holy Names Academy. She graduated with a teaching certificate, taught at several small schools and met Joe Hurley, whom she later married after he graduated from Gonzaga Law School.
Joe Hurley served in the Legislature from 1939-42, and again from 1951-54. When he decided not to run, he urged her to try, since she’d run his campaigns. She won a close race that year, but most of her re-elections were relatively easy.
“She taught me how to campaign, and how to doorbell,” said Roe, who went to work as Hurley’s legislative aide straight out of college, and considered Hurley a lifelong friend and mentor. Roe later used those skills in helping her former husband, Dennis Dellwo, get elected to the Legislature, and later for her successful campaign for the Olympia city council, on which she currently serves.
Hurley’s tenacity was well established after her first re-election. Hurley and her family were driving to Olympia for the start of the 1955 session, crossing Snoqualmie Pass when a car swerved over the center line and hit them head-on. Everyone in the family suffered some injuries, and Maggie had a broken foot. The Democrats had only a one-vote majority, and the election of John O’Brien as their speaker required her to be present to vote for him. She was wheeled into the chamber and cast the deciding vote for O’Brien.
In a 2009 interview when she turned 100, Hurley said the Legislature in the middle of the last century differed in many ways from the institution at the beginning of this century. There was more courtesy and less ranting, and she enjoyed it immensely: “I did a lot of singing and dancing and conniving.”
Her biggest connivance, she said in that interview, involved blocking the proposed route of the North South Freeway, which the state Department of Transportation wanted to build on the Hamilton-Nevada corridor. Hurley lived for decades in the Logan Neighborhood near Gonzaga University, and her neighbors were worried about the noise, the traffic, and what they saw as a lack of study for that route over the alternative route farther to the east on Havana. She blocked the department’s plan in the Legislature with a remonstrance, a parliamentary maneuver that was in the books, but no one could remember ever having been used. Then she pushed through a state law requiring an ecological study on any state highway project.
She stepped down at the end of 1984, but stayed active in local affairs in Spokane, particularly in development issues in the Logan where the family home sat at Boone and Cincinnati.
More recently she moved to a senior citizen facility in Tacoma, but remained active. Patrick Hurley, her son, said she suffered from a series of medical problems in recent years, but her mind remained sharp until just hours before her death in late August.
Her first husband, Joe Hurley, died in 1968, and her second husband, Leonard Peterson, whom she married in 1991, died in 2012. She is survived by two sons, Patrick, of Coupeville, Wash., and John, of Olympia; one daughter, Mary Margaret Hurley of Freeland, Wash., seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
A memorial services is scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 1 at Holy Cross Church in Tacoma, with graveside services at 1 p.m. Oct. 3 at Holy Cross Cemetery in Spokane.