John Martinis served Everett and Snohomish County in a number of public offices between 1967 and 1991. His early roots in commercial and sports fishing instilled in him a desire to protect natural resources, tempered by an understanding of businesses that rely on those resources that he gained as a son of a life-long commercial fisherman and as an owner of an Everett sporting goods store for more than 30 years. During his terms as a state representative for the 38th District, two terms as a Port of Everett commissioner, one term as a county councilmember, and about five years as the deputy county executive for Snohomish County, Martinis gained a reputation as someone who could forge deals out of contentious debates and who worked for the good of his constituents regardless of party politics.
Roots in Fishing
Martinis grew up as part of the Slavic American commercial fishing community in Everett. His father, Paul Martinis (1893-1974), an immigrant from Komiza, Yugoslavia (now Croatia), fished off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. After high school John Martinis worked as a commercial fisherman on his family's boats and attended Everett Community College.
Martinis also fished for sport and was heavily involved in local sports fishing organizations. The Herald newspaper in Everett announced in 1959 that he was the first president of the Hunting and Fishing Club, serving with Bob Berlin and A. C. Conn as the first officers. A photo in the Herald shows Martinis as president of the Snohomish County Sportsmen's Association working on a 1961 public information campaign that emphasized the financial dividends produced by conservation efforts. In 1957 Martinis bought Bob's Sporting Goods (he later changed the name to John's Sporting Goods), located in downtown Everett.
In 1967, Martinis ran for a position on the Port of Everett's board of commissioners. He won the election handily, beating the incumbent Bert Vanderwilt (1893-1991) for the first of his two six-year terms on the commission. During his tenure as a commissioner, the Port of Everett built an alumina ore facility and filled in the North Marina area (where Naval Station Everett is today). The port also expanded the Hewitt Avenue Terminal for handling cargo. Martinis would later be remembered for using his position on the port commission to help build the local economy and create jobs.
The year after joining the port commission, Martinis ran for state representative from the 38th District, which encompassed a large part of Snohomish County including his hometown of Everett. In a newspaper profile, Martinis listed his qualifications as "firm desire to serve," and the issues he was interested in as "crime, violence, consumer protection, recreational preservation, fiscal planning" ("Legislative Contests"). He easily defeated two opponents in the September Democratic primary, and then ran unopposed in the November general election.
Martinis was a Democrat whose views tended to be conservative or moderate. In the 1972 election, as in 1968, the Republican Party did not field a candidate against him. Newspaper columnist Jack Morgan called him a "Republicrat" and quoted local Republican chair Jerry Shaw as saying, "On balance, Martinis himself is a constructive legislator" (Rushing In," August 26, 1972). In a district that has elected Democrats since the Great Depression, save for two terms served by Republican Jack Metcalf (1927-2007), Martinis was perhaps the best local Republicans could hope for. Martinis proved very popular with district voters, who appear to have shared his moderate to conservative views. His Democratic opponent in the 1978 primary, John Eyer, attempted to attract votes by declaring his liberal views, but lost by a nearly two to one margin.
Martinis served in the legislature for 14 years. He was active on committees and commissions. He chaired the Transportation and the Natural Resources committees, and served on the local government committee and on a Committee on Energy formed during the energy crisis in the 1970s.
Martinis chaired the Natural Resources Committee during a significant period of environmental protection legislation in Washington and American history. The 1970s saw the passage of the federal and state Environmental Policy acts, the federal Clean Water and Endangered Species acts, and more. During the 1972 election, Governor Dan Evans (b. 1925) promoted a group of referendums that he called "Washington Futures," some of which addressed environmental issues and increased funding for open space acquisition.
Martinis sponsored legislation in 1973 with Edward T. Luders from Spokane and Donn Charnley (b. 1928) and Lois North (b. 1922) from Seattle to protect scenic rivers in Washington. Under the measure, which passed in 1977, the first five rivers designated as part of the scenic river system were portions of the Skykomish, Beckler, and Tye rivers. The legislature has since added a segment of the Little Spokane River to the system. Martinis also helped resolve disputes between sports fishermen and gillnetters over salmon fishing rules as salmon runs declined in the early 1970s.
Martinis's most high profile role in the legislature centered on the Forest Practices Act passed in 1974. The state's first Forest Practices Act, enacted in 1945, required reforestation of logged lands. In 1973, the legislature attempted to pass a new Forest Practices Act that greatly expanded government regulation and oversight of forested lands and logging operations.
The new Forest Practices Act won legislative approval in January 1974, but the law was vehemently opposed over the next two years as the state Forest Practices Board attempted to implement it with the rules and regulations for timber management, harvesting, and conservation on non-federal lands in Washington. Logging interests filed lawsuits to block enforcement and attempted to persuade the legislature repeal the law. Martinis shepherded the development of regulations by the Forest Practices Board through hearings of the Natural Resources Committee and joint conferences with the state senate for two years after the law's passage. Passions rose over the issue and at one protest by logging truck operators Dan Evans and John Martinis were hung in effigy in front of the state capitol building for their refusal to repeal the law.
Martinis helped forge a compromise that added a contract-logger representative and a small-forest-landowner representative to the Forest Practices Board, reduced the time it took for cutting permits to be issued, reduced environmental impact statement requirements, reduced the classes of timber operations that required a permit, and added more limits to liability to clarify the requirements set out in the original law. Even with those compromises, the law marked the beginning of a new era in forest management in Washington. Martinis was recognized by the Washington Environmental Council in 1976 as a Public Official of the Year for his efforts to protect the Forest Practices Act from those who sought its repeal.
Commissions and Committees
Martinis was tapped to serve on several commissions related to his work in the legislature. He was a commissioner on the Western Legislative Forestry Task Force, formed in 1974 to facilitate coordinated efforts by Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California to work with the federal government on promoting better forestry practices. In June 1975 Governor Evans appointed Martinis to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, a commission formed as an interstate compact agency in 1947 by Washington, Oregon, and California to promote better use and management of fisheries and shellfish resources on the Pacific coast. In 1976 Martinis joined the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which he chaired. The council was formed by the federal government as a result of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, which established a 200-mile zone along the American coast to be managed by regional councils to promote fisheries conservation.
Martinis's position on the Natural Resources Committee involved him in the turmoil that followed the 1974 decision by Judge George Boldt (1903-1984) that reaffirmed Indian tribes' treaty rights to half the annual fish harvest in Washington. The ruling required changes to state fisheries management practices and Department of Fisheries Director Donald W. Moos (b. 1923) needed the legislature to pass legislation enabling the changes. In 1976 Moos publicly accused the Natural Resources Committee of not doing enough to move the legislation forward. Martinis countered Moos's assertion, saying "I personally have tried my damdest (sic) to negotiate your recent bills with the commercial fishermen" (Morgan, "Martinis Hits Moos Comments").
In 1979, Martinis gave up his Port of Everett commission seat in order to focus on his work as chair of the House Transportation Committee. On that committee he was involved in changes to the state's ferry fleet, including a drawn-out dispute over the construction of the ferry Issaquah. The expansion of the Interstate 90 bridge over Lake Washington also wound its way through the state legislature while he was co-chair of the committee (the house was evenly divided during the 1979 session between Republicans and Democrats, so each party appointed a chair to each committee). Martinis also served on a joint house and senate transportation committee that met between legislative sessions.
In 1980, Snohomish County adopted a county council government with an elected county executive and Martinis ran for a seat on the first council. The Herald endorsed Martinis, noting his governmental experience, which would be helpful as the new county government got established, and his ability to get things done. In particular, the paper praised his success in promoting economic development at the Port of Everett and in the legislature. "We're therefore counting on John Martinis -- and we're convinced we can -- to add the balance of clear air and recreation and a viable farm community to his vision of jobs, tax dollars and business expansion" ("Martinis for Position 4").
In a close vote, Martinis lost the election to Bruce Agnew. Martinis chalked the defeat up to the disadvantage he faced being away in Olympia during much of the campaign. Newspaper coverage of the election suggested that the attempted shift to a county-wide constituency had made it harder for Martinis to win than in the smaller 38th District. Martinis ran again for a council seat in 1983, saying that he would not seek re-election to the state legislature even if he failed to gain a seat on the county council. He wanted to return home to Everett and spend winters there, rather than in Olympia. The Herald again endorsed Martinis, writing, "Martinis has worked legislative magic through his ability to build consensus and forge compromise among Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, and between the legislative and executive branches of state government" ("The Merits of Martinis"). Martinis won the election, resigned his seat in the legislature, and joined the council in 1984.
Just two years after joining the council, in January 1986, Martinis was chosen by County Executive Willis Tucker (1922-2000) to serve as his deputy county executive. Though both were Democrats, Tucker and Martinis had not always agreed on issues in the past but Tucker told the Herald that he only considered Martinis for the job. While deputy executive, Martinis often went to Olympia to encourage legislators to send more money to Snohomish County for roads and for the county's criminal justice system. For four years, until 1990, he served as co-chair of a state road jurisdiction study committee, which sought to establish consistent standards for state and local roads in Washington.
In 1990, Martinis participated in a summit meeting held by the Sustainable Forestry Roundtable. An outgrowth of the changes put into place by the Forest Practices Act and other environmental policies, the Sustainable Forestry Roundtable sought to bring together different interest groups, such as timber companies, environmental groups, small-woodlot owners, Indian tribes, and state and local government entities, to talk about forestry and find common ground on issues. Newspaper coverage of the summit noted that Martinis and a representative of King County proposed the use of conservation easements to protect small-woodlot owners from having to cut their timber or develop their land to pay for rising tax rates as the land around them developed. By providing tax breaks in exchange for private preservation of forest land, the state and counties could protect more open space land without the expense of purchasing it outright. The summit process was contentious and difficult, but it eventually produced an agreement between the numerous parties involved that reduced the rate of clearcutting in Washington's public and private forests.
Martinis stepped down from county government at the end of 1991, when Willis Tucker retired. He had served in public office for 24 years during an era of heightened public debate about how the state's fisheries and forests should be managed. His background in commercial and sport fishing and in business provided him with a broad understanding of the issues from multiple perspectives, which he translated into an ability to guide conflicting interests toward compromises.