Former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry, table-pounding liberal, dies at 78

Lowry, a proud, liberal Democrat, was Washington governor from 1993 to ’97 and served in Congress for a decade before that. He died of complications from a stroke.

Former Gov. Mike Lowry, a proud liberal Democrat who championed causes including universal health care and reparations for Japanese Americans interned during World War II, died Monday.

Gov. Lowry, 78, died following complications from a stroke, according to a statement from his family released by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.

“Mike Lowry served with compassion and humility. He had a big heart and cared deeply about the people of this state,” Inslee said in a statement.

A passionate speaker prone to emphatic hand gestures — a “vociferous, table-pounding liberal,” as local history nonprofit HistoryLink put it — Gov. Lowry spent nearly two decades as a leading force in Democratic politics.

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The Renton Democrat was first elected to the Metropolitan King County Council in 1975 and then to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, representing the 7th Congressional District for 10 years.

He served as governor from 1993 to 1997, a tumultuous single term marked by fights over health care and taxes. His term ended on a sour note with a decision not to seek re-election amid accusations that he had sexually harassed multiple women.

On Monday, former aides and politicians from both major parties remembered Gov. Lowry as a principled leader who believed in the power of government to do good.

“He never ran for office to wield power for the sake of having power. For Mike it was always a means to an end, advancing the public interest,” said Mark Brown, a longtime friend who served as director of the state Department of Labor and Industries.

A statement from Gov. Lowry’s family called him “a passionate defender” of people and the environment who “was often willing to take early stands on sometimes controversial issues.”

One such stand came as a freshman congressman when, in keeping a campaign promise, Gov. Lowry proposed the first legislation to give financial reparations to more than 100,000 Japanese Americans and Aleuts interned in prison camps during World War II.

His bill did not pass, but it helped spark efforts that led to the eventual signing by President Ronald Reagan of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which offered a formal apology for “the grave injustice” and $20,000 to each surviving victim.

“Mike certainly was willing to have the courage to speak out about his convictions. We helped to build the foundation for legislative redress,” said Ruthann Kurose, a Lowry congressional aide.

Born in St. John, Whitman County, in 1939, Gov. Lowry graduated from Endicott High School and Washington State University. His parents were New Deal Democrats, and their son followed suit.

In the 1980s he was a fiery Reagan critic, decrying budget cuts he said would harm the…

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