Following feuding, the Washington Legislature abolishes the State Highway Committee and makes the Highway Department a separate code department in March 1929.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 1/28/2005
  • Essay 7234
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In March 1929, the Washington State Legislature abolishes the State Highway Committee and makes the Highway Department a separate code department, headed by a Director of Highways appointed by the governor. The legislation follows a bitter feud between Governor Roland H. Hartley (1864-1952) and the other two members of the Highway Committee, State Auditor Charles W. Clausen and State Treasurer William G. Potts. It gives full control over highways to Hartley and his Highway Engineer, Samuel J. Humes (1883-1941), who becomes Director of Highways.

Hard-line Hartley

Hartley, the confrontational hard-line Republican governor, fought running battles with most other state-wide elected officials -- all of them fellow Republicans -- from the time he first took office in 1925. Auditor Clausen was a frequent target, along with Lands Commissioner Clark Savidge and Attorney General John Dunbar.

The Highway Committee feud broke out in earnest in 1927, after Hartley fired State Highway Engineer J. Webster Hoover and replaced him with Humes. Although the State Highway Engineer traditionally served as secretary to the Committee, Clausen and Potts voted to appoint George McCoy, one of the many highway officials Humes had dismissed, as secretary. Hartley refused to recognize the appointment and at one point had Humes throw McCoy bodily out of a meeting.

As Hartley was insisting that he was chairman of the Committee, Clausen and Potts elected Clausen as chairman. The battle for control of the Committee, and the refusal by Humes and Hartley to turn department records over to Clausen and Potts, led to multiple lawsuits, several of which reached the state Supreme Court. 

Bad for Good Roads

Neither side won a clear victory, but the constant squabbling endangered the $21,000,000 highway program and angered the powerful good roads movement. 

In 1929, when Hartley introduced a series of proposals for government reorganization, the Legislature rejected the rest but approved abolition of the Highway Committee. It also eliminated the office of Highway Engineer, created in 1923, and the Highway Department became a code department under the Director of Highways. Hartley vetoed the section of the law that would have allowed the state auditor to audit highway department records. 


Albert F. Gunns, Roland Hill Hartley and the Politics of Washington State, (M.A. Thesis, University of Washington, 1963), 191-98, 218; Gordon R. Newell, Rogues, Buffoons & Statesmen (Seattle: Hangman Press, 1975), 338-39, 344-45; "Forty Years With the Washington Department of Highways," p. 16, Washington State Department of Transportation website accessed October 11, 2004 (; 1929 Wash. Laws, ch. 115.

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