On February 28, 1929, freshman Democratic Representative Pearl Wanamaker (1899-1984) falls short in her first attempt to win approval for a highway bridge at Deception Pass. Wanamaker’s Island County constituents want a bridge linking Whidbey Island to the state highway system and she has succeeded in getting both houses of the overwhelmingly Republican state Legislature to unanimously approve building a Deception Pass toll bridge. Even after veto-prone Republican Governor Roland H. Hartley (1864-1952) rejects the bill, Wanamaker’s determined lobbying wins 48 votes to override the veto. However, the 48 to 47 vote in the state House of Representatives falls short of the two-thirds majority required to pass a bill over the governor’s veto. The setback is only temporary. Wanamaker will go on to shepherd a bill for a non-toll bridge through the 1933 Legislature and to preside at the Deception Pass Bridge’s dedication in 1935.
Campaigning for a Bridge
Pearl Wanamaker, who had a long and successful political career in the state Legislature and as Superintendent of Public Instruction, first won a House of Representatives seat from Island County in a close 1928 election in which she campaigned on her support for a Deception Pass bridge. Island County is composed of two large islands, Whidbey and Camano. Although Camano Island had long had road connections to the mainland, until 1935 there was no land route connecting Whidbey and the rest of the state, leaving residents dependent on ferry service. Most Whidbey Island residents wanted a highway bridge (although ferry operator Berte Olson [1882-1959] adamantly opposed it), and the narrow waterway separating the north end of Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island in Skagit County was the logical location for a bridge. There are two separate channels in between Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, called Deception Pass and Canoe Pass, which are divided by the aptly named Pass Island, and thus two bridges were actually built, but the area and the bridges jointly were and are commonly referred to as Deception Pass.
The land on both sides of the channels, in Island and Skagit counties, is part of Deception Pass State Park. Representative Wanamaker used the fact that a Deception Pass bridge would necessarily connect two portions of a state park to her advantage. Although the obvious reason for building the bridge was to link Whidbey Island to the mainland, the bill that Wanamaker introduced in 1929 did not mention Whidbey Island, or even Deception Pass, by name. Instead, House Bill No. 85, “An Act relating to state parks,” authorized the State Highway Committee to grant a franchise “to construct and maintain a road through any state park situated in two counties and divided into two or more parts by tidal waters constituting the boundary between such counties ...” (House Journal, 459). Of course, the only state park meeting this description was Deception Pass.Building Support
In February 1929, Wanamaker was not only a brand-new legislator, she was a Democrat and a woman in a Legislature dominated by Republican men. Including Wanamaker, there were eight Democrats and four women (three of them Republican) in the 97-member House of Representatives. There were only two Democrats and no women in the 42-member Senate. However, as she would demonstrate throughout her career, Wanamaker was an astute politician with a knack for winning tough political battles. The first bill she co-sponsored, a highway appropriation for “counties composed entirely of islands” (Rosenberg-Dishman), became law and for a time it looked like the bridge bill would as well.
Wanamaker worked diligently in support of House Bill No. 85 and many legislators recognized the need for a highway connection to Whidbey Island. The bill passed the House by a vote of 83 to nothing on February 5, 1929. The vote for the bridge bill in the Senate on February 18 was also unanimous, 37 to zero. Leaving nothing to chance, Wanamaker went in person to the upper chamber for the vote. The official Senate Journal recording passage of the bill reported:
Failure and Success
“The President [of the Senate] appointed Senators Condon and Knutzen to escort Mrs. Wanamaker, Representative from Island county, to a seat beside the President” (Senate Journal, 291).
Unfortunately for Wanamaker and other Deception Pass Bridge supporters, combative and tight-fisted Governor Roland Hartley frequently deployed his veto power to slash proposed government spending. Ferry operator Berte Olson may have requested the veto, but Hartley likely needed little urging. On February 27, 1929, he vetoed House Bill No. 85. Noting that the bill provided authority for toll bridges in state parks, the governor wrote in his veto message:
“No such authority is needed nor desired. The highway committee and the parks committee already have all the facilities necessary for making state parks accessible to the public and there are already too many agencies empowered to grant franchises for toll bridges.
“If this bill should become a law, future legislatures may expect requests for appropriations for the purchase of more state parks in which to build more toll bridges” (House Journal, 459).
Wanamaker “led an inspired fight to override the veto” (Newell) but could not overcome the personal pressure Hartley applied on individual Republican representatives. In addition, some representatives who supported a bridge to Whidbey Island opposed toll bridges in general and voted to sustain the veto on that basis. Even so, in the vote on February 28, Wanamaker mustered 48 votes to override, but the 48-47 margin fell short of the required two-thirds majority.
Disappointed over the failure to achieve her main legislative goal, Wanamaker did not seek re-election in 1930. Two years later she returned to the state House of Representatives as part of the 1932 Democratic landslide that gave her party control of the Legislature and the governor’s office. When a toll bridge for Deception Pass was proposed again in the 1933 legislative session, Wanamaker, with the help of Democratic Governor Clarence D. Martin (1884-1955), successfully maneuvered to have the toll provision (which contributed to the 1929 defeat) removed and to assign the bridge-building responsibility to the State Parks Committee. After the bill passed, Wanamaker and Martin managed to obtain funding for the bridge from state and federal emergency relief funds. The Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges were dedicated on July 31, 1935, with Pearl Wanamaker presiding.