Marion Hay served as Washington's seventh governor from 1909 to 1913. He became the state's chief executive after the death of Governor Samuel Cosgrove (1847-1909), and spent much of his first year in office dealing with political scandals that were not of his making. A conservative Republican with progressive leanings, Hay grew into the job as his incumbency progressed, and the latter part of his term was more productive. He championed the creation of the Washington Public Service Commission in 1911, and that same year he signed the state's first worker's compensation law. He was defeated in the 1912 general election by a fraction of a percent, becoming the second, and to date last, governor of the state to hold the office without ever being elected to it.
Marion East Hay was born on December 9, 1865, in Adams County, Wisconsin, the son of Edward Murray Hay (1841-1876) and Mary Cowing (1841-1930). He had one brother, Edward (1871-1922), a half-brother, J.C. McCaustland, and two sisters, Jennie (1870-1954), and a second identified only as "Mrs. J. Caldwell" in a 1933 obituary. After completing his primary studies he attended Bayless Commercial College (later Bayless Business College) in Dubuque, Iowa, before moving to Jackson, Minnesota, in 1882. He worked as a store clerk during his six years in Minnesota, and on January 16, 1887, he married Elizabeth "Lizzie" Muir (1865-1943). They had six children: Raymond (1889-1965), Neva (1891-1965), Bruce (1897-1950), Edward, Katherine, and Margaret (b. 1910). Margaret Hay has the distinction of being the first and only child born in the governor's mansion in Olympia, and the Hays have the distinction of being the first family to live in the residence.
In 1888 Hay moved to Davenport, Washington Territory, and to Wilbur (Lincoln County) the following year. He served as mayor of Wilbur from 1898 to 1902, and operated a large department store with his brother. He also owned ranches in the area. The store was destroyed in one of the biggest fires in Wilbur's history in 1901, but the brothers quickly set up shop in tents and shacks until a new building was built. Also in 1901, Marion and Edward Hay organized the Big Bend Land Company to manage their real estate business as well as their department store and farm holdings in Eastern Washington.
It was during his years in Wilbur that Hay began dabbling in politics on a larger scale, serving as chairman of the Lincoln County Republican Party and as an alternate to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 1900. Over the ensuing years, he gained name recognition in state politics in Eastern Washington despite his lack of experience in statewide office. He moved to Spokane in 1908, and that same year ran for lieutenant governor against incumbent Charles Coon (1842-1920). According to The Seattle Times, "Hay was nominated…as a result of an insurgent fight in the state Senate, which terminated in a determined effort to prevent the re-election of Lieut.-Gov. C.E. Coon" ("Lister Takes Oath…").
Washington held its first direct primary that September to allow the two major parties to choose candidates for elective office in the general election, and Hay defeated seven other candidates, including Coon. He won with a comfortable 63 percent of the vote in the general election that November.
Almost immediately, he came under fire. The new primary law prohibited candidates for office from paying for advertising prior to the primary, and Hay had done so in ads published in six newspapers. (The ads consisted of a statement reading "Paid Advertisement," followed by his picture, and concluding with "M. E. Hay, candidate for the Republican nomination for the office of lieutenant governor" (State ex. Rel Coon v. Hay, 51 Wash. 580). On January 13, 1909 -- the day after Hay was sworn in -- Coon filed suit in the state supreme court seeking to have Hay ousted and to allow Coon to remain in office until another successor was elected, though he did not seek to keep Hay out of office pending the court's decision. There was not much concern that the court would vote to eject the new lieutenant governor from office, and the decision was 5-2 in Hay's favor when the tribunal announced its ruling on February 6, finding that the provision prohibiting paid advertising was vague and the penalty overly severe.
The court's decision was more significant than it might otherwise have been. It was known before the election that the new governor, Samuel Cosgrove, was suffering from kidney disease and might not be able to complete a four-year term. His condition deteriorated further after the election. He was able to appear briefly for his inauguration in the House chamber on January 27, but was far too weak to carry out his duties. After a brief speech to the legislature he retired to California, where it was hoped he would recover. Hay served as acting governor for the next two months, but Cosgrove died in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 28, 1909, and Hay became governor. He assured the public in a statement that evening "As is well known, when I became a candidate for the office of lieutenant governor it was without the slightest thought that I would ever be called upon to fill the executive position. Now that those duties have devolved upon me, I shall perform them to the best of my ability" ("Gov. Hay Not…").
From Acting Governor to Governor
Hay had already had his hands full as acting governor. Even before Cosgrove's death he had known of allegations of fraud in the state insurance department (now known as the Office of the Insurance Commissioner), and specific allegations that involved the newly elected insurance commissioner, John Schively (1858-1934). As acting governor, his initial and informal attempts to bring an inquiry were met with such resistance by legislative leaders and state officials that he sent a message to the legislature shortly before it adjourned in March demanding an investigation by a legislative investigating committee. This took place in May, and both Schively and Secretary of State Sam Nichols (1829-1913), who had served as insurance commissioner prior to Schively while Schively was assistant commissioner, were the principal witnesses. Both men admitted to actions and procedures that were legally questionable while they had been in office. More significantly, several thousand dollars in fees that the office had charged could not be accounted for.
Nichols soon resigned, but Schively remained in office. This left Hay little choice but to take what was then considered the dramatic step of calling a special session of the legislature that June to remove him, either by abolishing the position of an elected insurance commissioner or by impeachment. The effort to abolish the position failed, but the House passed a resolution of impeachment by an 88-0 vote. The Senate trial followed in August. Though Schively was acquitted, it was because of the requirement that two-thirds of the senators vote for a conviction; of the 12 articles of impeachment presented, a simple majority found him guilty of nine of them. Moreover, of the 40 senators voting, 14 conservative Republicans voted solidly against each article of impeachment, which did little to clear the aroma of corruption in the insurance commissioner's office. (However, it did help spur the passage of a recall law in Washington in 1912.) It was a harbinger of the split that would cleave the Republican Party not only in Washington but nationally in the 1912 election.
Though this wasn't the only instance of corruption that Hay was forced to deal with during his first year in office, it was the biggest. He was surprised and frustrated by the opposition, particularly from members in his own party; he felt that it stymied his efforts to bring a more professional, businesslike administration to the governor's office. For example, though he supported the efforts of prohibitionists to outlaw saloons during bitter arguments in the 1909 legislature over the local option issue (which allowed voters in any town to vote whether to license saloons in their community), he took the professional's argument on the position, later explaining, "I take my stand against the saloons largely from a business man's point of view, believing that saloons take a great percentage of money from legitimate business" ("The Daylight Saloon"). On the other hot-button issue of 1909, Hay favored the proposed amendment to the state constitution providing for women's suffrage, which the legislature passed that year, and which the voters approved in the 1910 election.
A Conservative With Progressive Leanings
In his 1911 message to the legislature, Hay argued for a further strengthening of local option laws and advocated for the sale of alcohol to be limited to daylight hours where it was legal. He did not call for a statewide liquor ban, even though there were plenty of people who did; a year earlier he had said that he did not think the people of the state were ready for it. Hay urged the passage of a recall law, which was approved by the voters the following year, as was the initiative and referendum. He also called for a constitutional amendment providing for the election of only a governor and lieutenant governor on the statewide ticket, arguing that it would be more efficient if the executive powers were in the hands of a select few. Under this proposal, the governor would have appointed officials to all other state positions, subject to approval by the Senate. He further advocated for an amendment allowing the governor to appoint the state's supreme court justices. Neither of these proposals went anywhere.
Recognizing that the automobile was becoming more common, Hay called for the legislature to approve the creation of an office of "road patrol" ("Hay Delivers…") with patrolmen to man the state's highways to make sure the roads were properly maintained, but there was no such legislation that year. He signed the Permanent Highway Act in March, which transferred many road construction responsibilities from the counties to the state and provided impetus for more construction of paved highways in Washington. He signed the Port District Act, which authorized local voters to create port districts in their jurisdictions. He signed an act that created the State Industrial Insurance Commission and provided for worker's compensation coverage, and signed another act that created the Washington Public Service Commission to regulate utilities such as gas, electric, and water. The creation of the Public Service Commission was an early, and significant, step in bringing regulation to the state's businesses and industries.
The success of both commissions was becoming apparent by 1912, and it helped give Hay more credibility with his contemporaries and with voters. This was especially true in Western Washington, where many urban politicians and others had initially dismissed the governor as a political lightweight. (One glaring exception was The Seattle Times, which scornfully referred to him throughout his term as either "Acting Governor Hay" or "Lieutenant-Governor Hay.") But he faced a unique challenge from the burgeoning Progressive movement, which split the Republican Party in 1912. Though Hay was a conservative, he was not among the most conservative members of Washington's Republican Party, which seemed to prefer to continue following practices better suited for the nineteenth century. He was astute enough to recognize the strength of the Progressive movement, but he had some progressive leanings of his own. His willingness to sign the industrial insurance bill in 1911 is a case in point. The businessman in Hay recognized the costs that would be borne by business; the realist in Hay saw that it was an idea whose time had come. Nevertheless, he remained in the conservative wing of the Republican Party in 1912 and did not join those who bolted to the Progressives.
The governor's election that year was a nailbiter. Hay easily won the Republican nomination in the September primary, but the general election two months later was another matter. A Progressive candidate, Robert Hodge, was on the ballot, but as election day approached it was apparent that Hodge would not win. However, he almost certainly siphoned off enough Republican votes to cost Hay a victory. On election night the vote was so close that a winner could not be determined, and it took four days to confirm that the Democratic candidate, Ernest Lister (1870-1919), had prevailed. His margin of victory over Hay was 622 votes, or less than two-tenths of one percent. (To add to the irony of Hay's defeat, Republicans won every other statewide race that year.) There were persistent rumors from Hay's backers until days before Lister's inauguration that he would contest the results, which the governor repeatedly shot down. There was scant evidence that Hay actively supported these efforts, and even The Seattle Times conceded "Among well-informed politicians it has been pretty well known for two months that the executive himself was not behind these movements…" ("Hay Denies Truth…").
On January 15, 1913, Hay escorted Lister to the inaugural platform set up at the south entrance to the state capitol and watched the new governor take the oath of office. That same day, he presented his final message to the new legislature. The 10,000-word narrative covered a wide range of topics. He touted the success of the Public Service Commission and proposed 10 changes to the worker's compensation law. He urged legislation to eliminate dangerous grade crossings between railroad and highways, and he recommended greater public use of public- school centers and grounds when school was not in session, arguing that "the schoolhouse is the natural social center in the village and rural school districts" ("Retiring Executive"). In an unusually prescient request for 1913, he called for the reforestation of lands that had been logged. And he urged the legislature to ratify the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provided for the direct elections of United States senators in each state (prior to this time senators were chosen by state legislatures). The legislature did so, and the amendment became law three months later. He also called for a presidential preference primary law, but the first presidential primary in Washington did not occur until 1992.
Hay and his family returned to Spokane. He did not seek public office again, but he remained active. He supported the Columbia Basin project during his later years, which led to the development of Grand Coulee Dam and the resulting irrigation network, which supplies water to farmlands in Central and South-Central Washington. He continued to manage his interests in the Big Bend Land Company, and served as chairman of the board of the 12th District Regional Agricultural Credit Corporation. Never a fan of liquor, Hay also was active in efforts to prevent the repeal of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), but it was repealed two weeks after his death.
Hay was in his office in Room 323 of the Symons Building in Spokane on the morning of November 21, 1933, when he suffered a massive heart attack. Death came so quickly that an initial Associated Press report inelegantly reported that he had "dropped dead in his office" ("Ex - Governor M.E. Hay…"). His old nemesis, The Seattle Times, wrote a complimentary editorial the following day, acknowledging him as "Governor Hay" and opining that "No more practical and sensible administration has ever been given" ("Governor Hay"). A bit hyperbolic perhaps, but nonetheless a nod to a man with no prior experience in state politics who inherited a tough hand and played it well.