On September 10, 1959, The Seattle Daily Times publishes five articles that result from a probe of expenditures and hiring practices of the secretary of state's office, which since 1957 has been occupied by the vibrant Victor "Vic" Meyers Sr. (1897-1991). Meyers explains the expenditures as a necessary part of the job and repeatedly asks the Times, "Why pick on Vic?" The articles generate some pointed questions and a spark or two of indignation, but Meyers sails through it with his usual aplomb.
A Fun-Loving Pol
"State Pays Dearly for Meyers, Probe Shows," reads a headline on the front page of The Seattle Daily Times on September 10, 1959, with a smaller caption above: "Why Pick On Vic?" Secretary of State Vic Meyers, a former bandleader and state lieutenant governor (1933-1953), was a colorful character who had become known during his tenure as lieutenant governor for having a zest for travel on the state dime. This zest continued while he was secretary of state.
The Times investigation found that in the 32 months Meyers had been in office there had been a number of months that he was in Olympia for only three or four days during the month, and that he had been reimbursed for lodging and meals claimed as business expenses on Christmas Day and the Fourth of July. The fun-loving pol said the trips were a necessary part of his job investigating out-of-state corporations doing business in Washington state who failed to purchase a state license as required. He explained that the road trips were a "real sleuthing job" ("State Pays Dearly") designed to bring in money for the state from recalcitrant out-of-state corporations.
Four Days in Forty
One trip drew special attention. In September 1957 Meyers attended a four-day national convention of secretaries of state in Boston. His drive to Boston and back (in a state-owned car) took 40 days, and he took along his daughter, Mary Louise -- whom he had hired early in the year as his secretary. One reporter estimated the entire trip, including salaries for the two, cost the state about $2,500 ($20,000 in 2011 dollars). The return trip included stops in Miami, New Orleans, Tucson, and Las Vegas, among other cities. Meyers said that he was following up with various secretaries of states he had met in Boston -- he could not recall who -- to see how they did business, though none of the cities listed above were state capitals. He later called the Times to clarify that he had suffered from poor health during the trip and had to stop frequently for rest and treatment.In addition to employing his daughter for years, Meyers also hired his son, Victor Jr., as a corporation field examiner. Two months later, Meyers Jr. formed a partnership in Portland known as D&M Tire and Equipment Company that subsequently sold thousands of dollars worth of tires and wire rope to the state. But this wasn't illegal, as Assistant State Auditor Clem Yelle was quick to affirm, saying that the only law broken by young Meyers "might be a moral one" ("Tire Sales…").
"Why Pick on Vic?"Another article in the Times focused on numerous phone calls made to and from locations all over the country and charged to the elder Meyers's office. "The list of long-distance phone calls charged to the taxpayers by the secretary of state's office reads like a page from the National Geographic magazine," revealed the Times ("Meyers' Phone-Call List…"). Responded Meyers, "Sure, I make a few social calls. But why pick on Vic? They all do it" ("State Pays Dearly ...").
Times reporter Don Duncan observed that Meyers was operating the most costly secretary of state's office in Washington state's history. Meyers contended that his office was implementing a new card filing system that would eventually save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Duncan asked Meyers why his office's budget was increasing if savings were being made. Meyers retorted, "I don’t draw up the budget."
And added, "Why pick on Vic?"
The Brouhaha Blows Over
Governor Albert Rosellini (1910-2011) was in Honolulu on a goodwill tour (Hawaii had been admitted to the Union just three weeks before) with dozens of other Washington state business and civic leaders when he was contacted by UPI about the brouhaha. Rosselini replied: "Vic is a great man. Anything that he does is completely under his jurisdiction" ("Attorney Gen. Not ...").The brouhaha soon blew over. The state attorney general's office announced there would be no investigation, and the story largely vanished from the papers. There were scattered calls for young Meyers's resignation as a corporation field examiner, and he did indeed resign -- nearly a year later, to run for re-election to the legislature. (He won.) Likewise, Vic Meyers Sr. was re-elected in 1960 by a margin of more than 6 percent. He would not fare as well when he ran again in 1964, a year after more than 80,000 petitions were stolen from his office in a scandalous caper known as "The Great Petition Robbery." But that’s another story.