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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

What should Washington name Highway 395?

When I was a much younger reporter for The Spokesman-Review in the early 1980s, I covered the nuclear fiasco that was the Washington Public Power Supply System.

This was good gig because it meant writing about the faltering effort to build five nuclear plants, which was living up to the pronunciation of the WPPSS acronym – Whoops – and spiraling into the largest municipal bond default in U.S. history. But the assignment had one big drawback. Many meetings were in the Tri-Cities, which meant regular trips down U.S. 395.

This was not the 395 that today’s motorists travel, on which one can set cruise control after leaving Interstate 90 at Ritzville for a pleasant drive down what’s mainly a four-lane expressway through the Columbia Plateau. This was a stretch of mainly two-lane highway over hilly terrain, often populated by semis hauling hay, potatoes or livestock. In bad weather, it was a white-knuckle drive divided by zones of “Do Not Pass” and “Pass If You Feel Lucky.”

This trip down memory lane was prompted by a discussion in the House last week over a proposal to rename U.S. 395 between the Canadian border and Oregon as the Thomas S. “Tom” Foley Memorial Highway. The discussion did not, as a reasonable person might assume, revolve around whether the Legislature should pick either Foley’s formal first name or the name he was generally known by, but not both, to save space on the signs the Department of Transportation would put up.

Nor was there a question of whether Foley should be recognized for finding the money in a series of federal budgets to widen various stretches of the highway, both between Ritzville and Pasco and along some murderous stretches north of Spokane. As House whip, majority leader and eventually speaker, he was in a position to direct money to local projects, and he did, even when that southern stretch was mostly in another congressional district. 

Instead, there were questions raised by some Republicans about the propriety of naming the whole stretch, border to border, for Foley.

“Yes, he brought money to help build this and help maintain it,” Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said somewhat grudgingly. But lots of people have lived and died, worked and served the country along that road, he added.

“Quite frankly, there were some policies that he pursued, that he ushered through under his leadership, that were not supported by some of the people in that area, who live and work along that highway,” Orcutt said.

Some folks who live along the highway probably didn’t back some policies Foley supported, Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said. But communities and chambers of commerce up and down the highway have passed resolutions in support of the name, and in the history of 395, none has suggested naming a stretch for anyone else, he added.

Ormsby then hinted that Orcutt was acting as though he was in “the other Washington” – Olympia code for being nastily partisan like Congress, not polite and civil like the Legislature prefers to think of itself – and said naming the road for Foley would be a tribute to “his work in bringing civility to government.”

Highway naming resolutions often pass unanimously, or nearly so. This one passed 69-29, with only Ormsby, fellow Democrat Marcus Riccelli and Republican Jeff Holy voting yes among the Spokane-area delegation. Some other Republicans voted yes, but Reps. Mary Dye, Joel Kretz, Jacquelin Maycumber, Bob McCaslin, Joe Schmick, Matt Shea and Mike Volz all voted no. The resolution now goes to the Senate.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post didn't list Rep. Jeff Holy's vote.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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