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August P. "Augie" Mardesich is appointed to finish out his late brother's term in the Washington State House of Representatives on February 9, 1950.

HistoryLink.org Essay 9959 : Printer-Friendly Format

On February 9, 1950, August P. "Augie" Mardesich (b.1920) of Everett is appointed to finish out his late brother's term in the Washington State House of Representatives. In the fall of 1950, Mardesich will run for the same seat in House District 38 (Snohomish County). He will win a total of six times before switching in 1963 to the State Senate seat in the same district. He will earn the rare distinction of serving as both the House majority leader and the Senate majority leader. Mardesich will finally be defeated in 1978, ending his legislative career.

Tragedy at Sea

August Mardesich's legislative career began as a direct result of a family tragedy in the cold waters off the Aleutian Islands.

In the spring of 1949, Mardesich had shipped aboard the family's fishing boat, the Sunset, for the yearly fishing trip to Alaskan waters. The boat was skippered by his father, Nick Mardesich, a fisherman who had emigrated from Yugoslavia and settled in Everett, and several of August's brothers. One of those brothers was Tony P. Mardesich, who had just been elected to his first term in the House District 38 seat and had served during the regular session from January to March 1949.

On June 10, 1949, the Sunset was fishing near False Pass, off Cape Pancos, near the spot where the Alaskan Peninsula separates from the first island in the Aleutian chain. A vicious storm sprang up. They were trying to make for the protection of a cove when the wind and waves rolled Sunset over. Nick Mardesich died instantly, from trauma from the impact. Tony was on a hatch cover, holding onto his father's body.

"My brother was still OK except that just as the other boats came to save us, he slipped off one of the hatch covers; he lost it and away he went," said Mardesich. "He was drowned. I and a couple of other young guys were saved, three of us. The rest, my dad and my brother, and five others, were lost" (Oral History, p, 11).

Taking a Brother's Seat

The Everett Democratic establishment -- which was already dominated by a young Henry (Scoop) Jackson (1912-1983) -- needed to appoint a replacement. August, like Tony, had a freshly minted law degree from the University of Washington, yet Augie claimed that he had no interest in politics and that he would rather be a fisherman. Jackson had other plans.

"He [Jackson] just passed the word and, bang-o, Augie got the appointment," said Mardesich in a 2000 oral history. "That's how I got into politics. Not that I desired to, or anything else" (Oral History, p. 11).

He started off his legislative career with a five-day special session in July 1950, during which he did little more than meet some of his fellow legislators and find his way around the Capitol.  Yet he discovered, to his surprise, that he "didn't mind it at all" (Oral History. P. 29).

Mardesich's Long Career

The Everett Democratic establishment asked him to run for the seat in the next election, and he agreed. He won easily, the first of six terms in the House. He rose swiftly into leadership positions in the House and by his third term became House majority leader.

He switched to the State Senate in 1963 and eventually became the Senate majority leader. By the time he was defeated in 1978, he had already earned a reputation as one of the most influential legislators in Washington political history.

Sources:
August P. Mardesich, August P. Mardesich: An Oral History (Washington State Oral History Program, Office of the Secretary of State, 2000) interviewer Sharon Boswell, Washington State Legislature Oral History website accessed November 6, 2011 (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/oralhistory/mardesich/); "Death Toll on Everett Ship Lost in Alaska Raised to 5," The Seattle Times, June 12, 1949, p. 1; "State of Washington: Members of the Legislature, 1889-2011," Washington State Legislature website accessed November 6, 2011 (http://www.leg.wa.gov/History/Legislative/Documents/Members_of_Leg_2011.pdf).


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State senators (l-r) William Gissberg, Martin Durkan, August Mardesich, 1970s
Courtesy Washington State Legislature


 
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