The son of a Kelso barber, Sid Snyder eventually rose up to establish himself as a well-loved small-town grocer, a savvy real-estate investor, and a millionaire bank founder. In addition, he gained statewide renown for his 50-plus year career as a Democratic leader in the Washington State Legislature. Along the way Snyder came to be regarded variously as the "ultimate insider" (The Seattle Times), the Legislature's "institutional memory" (Postman), "a walking history book" (Brunell), and "both a statesman and a gentleman" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
Sidney R. "Sid" Snyder was born in Kelso, Washington, on July 30, 1926, to working-class parents. His father, a barber, died when he was 5 years old and his mother struggled to make ends meet by taking in laundry and doing other laborious jobs. As a mere lad, Snyder pitched in by delivering the clean laundry by wagon to customers around his town. Employment opportunities in the Kelso-Longview area have always been limited and Snyder once recalled that dreams of progress were also limited back then: "My mother thought if you'd get a mill job, well, that'd be as much as you'd ever need to accomplish" (Postman).
In another interview he stated, "I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in South Kelso, and if I got through high school that was great and probably the greatest thing that could happen is if I could get a steady job down in one of those lumber mills in Longview. That would be the pinnacle of what any person would end up with" (Oral History). Along the way his family struggled -- during the Great Depression his brother joined the Civilian Conservation Corps -- and because President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal policies were popular, Snyder gained a sense that "everyone was a Democrat" in his community. He became one as well.
After the United States entry into World War II in 1941, his mother took on a job in the shipyards, and toward the war's end in 1945, Snyder served in the U.S. Air Force. Upon discharge, he began attending college, but then in 1946 he took a vacation at the coastal community of Long Beach, Washington, fell in love with the area, and settled in.
In January 1949, State Representative Ralph A. Smith awarded the unemployed Snyder a patronage job and soon the 22 year old was driving his rusty 1938 Buick the 110 miles over to Olympia where he became an elevator operator in the State Capitol Building. But before long he had moved up to the position of a supervisor in the Bill Room.
At the end of the season's session, he returned to the coast where he got a job as a shelf-stocker at a grocery store, eventually married Bette Kennedy from the tiny hamlet of Willapa, and was later befriended by a local man who offered to help him get established in business. Snyder accepted a $13,000 loan and in 1953 opened his own small grocery store in nearby Seaview: Sid's Food Market (44th Place and Pacific Way).
Back to Olympia
In 1955 veteran Democratic Chief Clerk Si Holcomb asked Snyder to return to the capital and work under him as Assistant Chief Clerk -- a position Snyder held onto until 1965. Well-liked, Snyder's skills were apparently admired enough that when the Republicans held the majority in 1967 and 1969, he was retained in that role. That same year, the Secretary of the Senate, Ward Bowden (1912-1969), passed on and Snyder was elected to succeed him in a position he held until retiring from politics in 1988.
Although born and raised a Democrat -- albeit one who was widely regarded as ever respectful to his Republican counterparts -- Snyder was known as a moderately conservative party loyalist who wasn't afraid to compromise and collaborate with reasonable opponents. To the extent that one famous (through probably apocryphal) legend arose regarding his earliest days in Olympia as that House elevator operator.
One version, as reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, went this way: One day he was "giving a lift to two Republican lawmakers who asked the young operator his party affiliation. It was Democrat, Snyder explained, because his father was a Democrat, as was his grandfather. Questioning the young man's logic, one of the solons asked, 'If they were horse thieves, would you be a horse thief?' 'No,' Snyder allegedly answered, 'I'd be a Republican'" ("Stories a Tribute...").
A Call Back to Service
On August 19, 1990, the 19th District's Senator Arlie DeJarnatt (1923-1990) suddenly died and Snyder was appointed to step in. That fall, a special election was held and he was successfully returned to the seat -- and soon thereafter was also elected as the Democratic Caucus Chair (a remarkable achievement for a freshman senator). Then, after Majority Leader Senator Marc Gaspard resigned in late 1995, Snyder was elected Democratic Leader -- a position he served in for seven years (including five as the Majority Leader). Along the way Snyder earned a reputation for his avid interest in issues ranging from transportation to education to public safety.
After trouble-plagued plans to operate the controversial Washington Public Power Supply System's (WPPSS -- commonly pronounced derisively as "whoops"), nuclear plants were finally abandoned in 1994. Snyder then led the push to convert Satsop nuclear power plant campus (located near Elma in Grays Harbor County) into a business hub, the Satsop Development Park. When his district suffered with the decline of the logging industry, he worked tirelessly to help provide his constituents with retraining programs and extended unemployment benefits.
Early Retirement (Again)
Over time, Snyder -- who was universally regarded as a true peacemaking gentleman -- grew frustrated with the sharply partisan tenor of the Senate during the Reagan/Bush era. As the Editorial Board of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer put it, he "was devastated by the way the then-Republican Senate majority was trashing some of the chamber's 100-year-old rules of procedure" ("Stories a Tribute...")
And thus on April 19, 1997, the Senate's top Democratic leader abruptly announced his retirement from office. Within the week, the Senate generated a petition beseeching him to return to the fold, a request that he honored. Later, on April 20, 1999, his fellow senators unanimously passed a resolution to acknowledge and honor Snyder's 50th year of service in the Legislature.
No Dirty Laundry
Widely regarded as a "clean" politician who was untainted by corruption, Snyder once rued how politicians have been unfairly stereotyped as generally unethical. As The Daily News Online noted:
"Snyder said people are ready to believe the worse about politicians, even on fictional TV shows. 'The politicians are always the evil people in these plots ... . All my time there (in the Senate) no one offered me anything to vote one way or the other. I never saw anybody get money or anything for any kind of a vote ... . But the image is created that if you're a politician, you're going to do something wrong.'"
A Working Retirement
It was on election night in 2002 that the 79-year-old Snyder shocked the political scene by announcing that he was truly retiring from the Senate (on November 8) in order to spend more time with his family -- which included his namesake son, Sid Snyder Jr. (b. 1952); two daughters, Karen (b. 1953) and Sally (b. 1955); and three grandchildren. One newspaper quoted him as stating that "There should be no misunderstanding about why I am retiring. It's about family. It's not about being in the majority or the minority."
That same piece concluded by noting "The Legislature has gained much in his having been there; in Snyder's leaving, the institution has lost a both a statesman and a gentleman" (Seattle Post Intelligencer editorial).
Sid Snyder's Legacy
Snyder returned home to his new 4,000-square-foot beachfront house in Long Beach and enjoyed returning to work at his two grocery stores (Sid's Market and the Midtown Market). Not to mention keeping an eye on his other considerable business interests which included real-estate investing, and the Bank of the Pacific that he founded back in 1969 (and that currently boasts 17 branches in Washington and Oregon).
But his contributions to his community -- and to state politics -- were not forgotten. One tribute saluted Snyder this way: "Always a gentleman, he maintained the civility and decorum of the Senate. Never one to abuse his power -- and he had plenty of it -- he was not afraid to apply it both in his caucus and on the floor of the Senate. When he did, he did so with the deft touch of a skilled surgeon. His deep abiding love for our state, the legislature, and the legislative process permeated everything he did. While legislative battles were sometimes heated and passionate, Sid had a way of calming people down, restoring a sense of humor, and moving on to other important issues" (Brunell).
Widespread appreciation for the longtime pol took on physical manifestations as well: On May 5, 2003, Long Beach city council-members and Pacific County Commissioners jointly voted to re-dedicate the town's old 10th Avenue SW as Sid Snyder Drive, and in 2006 up in Olympia another street within the Washington State Capitol campus was officially renamed as Sid Snyder Avenue SW. Finally, that same year, Snyder accepted an invitation to contribute his rich trove of memories to the videotaped Oral History project launched by the Washington State Legislature and overseen by the Secretary of State's office. Sid Snyder died in 2012 at the age of 86.