William Scott Day served as a Democrat in both houses of the Washington State Legislature during a durable 22-year political career. He was born in Rockford, Illinois, but before his first birthday the family relocated to Washington, where his parents, both licensed chiropractors, opened a clinic in North Bend. In 1942 the family moved to Bremerton, where Day married Norma Ringer (1926-2007), whom he had met in high school. After serving in the army during World War II, he graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, his parents' alma mater. Day and his wife returned to Washington and settled in Spokane, where he opened a chiropractic clinic in 1949. In 1958, in his first try at elective office, he won a seat in the state House of Representatives. A combination of imposing size and political acumen earned him the sobriquet "Big Daddy," which he accepted with good humor. Although a Democrat, his stance on many issues put him at frequent odds with his party, which was increasingly dominated by more liberal members from Western Washington. In 1963, supported by Republicans and a small group of other dissident Democrats, Day ousted long-serving John L. O'Brien (1911-2007) to become Speaker of the House. He served five terms in the House and three in the Senate before being defeated in 1980, a victim of the Reagan landslide. He died less than four years later, on May 27, 1984.
Youth, Love, and War
William Scott Day's parents, J. W. "Bill" Day (1890-1953) and Laura Scott Day (1895-1976), both graduated from the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, in 1921. They moved to Rockford, Illinois, that same year and opened a chiropractic clinic. On January 31, 1923, their first son, William Scott Day, was born, and shortly thereafter the family relocated to the small community of Meadowbrook, about five miles northeast of North Bend in King County. The Days opened a new clinic in North Bend, which prospered. Four years later their second son, James Scott Day (1927-1986), was born.
The Day family moved to Bremerton in 1942. The city fashioned itself "Home to the Pacific Fleet," and during World War II its population ballooned to as many as 80,000, including more than 32,000 shipyard workers. This offered the Days a much larger pool of potential patients than North Bend, and the clinic they opened in the navy town was soon successful.
On November 7, 1942, with military call-up inevitable, Bill Day married Norma Ringer, whom he had met at North Bend High School. He entered the army shortly thereafter and was sent to the European theater, where he participated in the famous Battle of the Bulge, Nazi Germany's last, desperate attempt to roll back Allied forces in the west. Day survived unscathed and was discharged at war's end after serving a little more than two years.
Professional and Political
After his release from the army, Day followed his parents' path and enrolled at Palmer College in Iowa. He graduated in January 1947, and he and Norma moved to Spokane, the city of her birth. There he opened the Day Chiropractic Clinic on April 17, 1948. His parents soon moved to Spokane and joined the practice, and in 1951 his brother James graduated from Palmer and also came on board. Bill and Norma had a total of five children: Diana K. Grim, Dan L. Day, William S. Day Jr., Timothy J. Day, and John W. Day. The latter two would maintain the family tradition, graduating from Palmer and joining their father's Spokane practice.
Bill Day soon became involved in the affairs of his community, serving in the P.T.A., the Grange, the Kiwanis and Moose Clubs, and as a committeeman for the Boy Scouts. He belonged to Spokane's East Side Taxpayers' Club, an organization that opposed high taxes and government waste. But it was what he, and many, saw as the unfair treatment of chiropractors under an old state law that gave Day his first real taste of politics, Olympia style.
For many years, chiropractors had encountered a substantial barrier to obtaining a license to practice in Washington. Under a 1927 law, they had to pass a "basic science" test that was not all that basic and that required extensive knowledge in areas that chiropractors considered of no relevance to their practice, including such things as pathology and chemistry (Basic Science Act). Although Day overcame it, the requirement was a nearly insurmountable hurdle for many trained and otherwise competent chiropractors. In 1954 an initiative to change the law, strongly opposed by medical doctors, failed by a greater than 2-to-1 margin. Day, as a volunteer for the Washington Chiropractors' Association, then lobbied the state legislature to modify the requirement. The effort, which eventually was successful, gave him his first taste of legislative politics.
Day came away from his experience in Olympia with a sense that there was a regrettable lack of citizen involvement in state government, and in 1957 he decided to take the plunge himself. His mother was not enthusiastic, but other family members and friends offered their encouragement and support. In 1958, he ran for a seat in the state House of Representatives for Spokane's Fourth District, which Republican Representative James E. Winton had lost to legislative reapportionment earlier that year. Day, with 5,091 votes, had the second-highest tally, behind fellow Democrat Kathryn Epton (1912-1998). Under the electoral system then in place, both took seats in the House for the 1959 legislative session (until 1969 the legislature met only every other year).
Representative Day spent his first two years in office doing as most new legislators do -- learning the rules of procedure, sitting on committees, tending to his constituents, doing more listening than talking. He was vice-chairman of the medicine, dentistry, and drug committee, and also held seats on the education, industrial insurance, highways, and public utilities committees. On November 8, 1960, he was reelected with 9,443 votes, nearly double that of his first run. During the campaign, Day outlined his priorities:
"I will continue to devote conscientious efforts to obtain efficiency and sound economy in state government. All departments ... must be constantly checked to assure that the taxpayers are getting the most out of their dollar" ("Mrs. Epton, Day to Seek Reelection ...").
This focus -- sound fiscal policy, low taxes, small government -- would remain constant throughout Day's legislative career. But his more than two decades in state government would span some of the most tumultuous years in American social history, including the 1960s, and his generally conservative views became increasingly out of step with the majority of Democratic voters statewide. Fortunately for him, he did not have to run statewide, and his Spokane constituents sent him back to Olympia again and again.
To be an effective legislator in a party that was becoming increasingly liberal, Day had to become a skillful tactician. The first full display of these talents would come between 1961 and 1963. While he was an influential lawmaker for more than two decades, nothing in the rest of his career would approach the drama of these three years.
Electoral Success, Political Schism
Back in 1955, when Republican Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) was governor of Washington, his party controlled the state Senate by a two-seat margin, and the Democrats held a bare majority in the House, 50 seats to 49. When the ballots were counted after the November 1956 election, Democrat Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011) was elected governor and his party had won a 31-to-15 edge in the Senate and a 56-to-43 margin in the House. Every statewide executive position, from governor to insurance commissioner, was captured by Democrats.
In the1958 legislative elections, when Bill Day won in his first try for a seat in the House, things got much worse for the G.O.P. Democrats came away with an approximate two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. But the full fruits of such a large victory proved elusive. The Democrats' unity soon began to fray and by 1960 there were deep divisions in the party, as described by one commentator:
"By 1960 the Democratic party in the legislature had again divided into various feudal principalities -- old-line Democrats, 'intellectual liberals,' conservative 'dissident' Democrats, rural conservatives, and assorted individuals with no broad affiliations, some with large followings, others with none at all ..." (McCurdy, 5).
Bill Day was one of the "conservative dissidents," a strong supporter of labor but a conservative on social issues and a foe of big government and the taxes needed to run it. He often found himself at odds with party leadership. The Speaker of the House was John L. O'Brien (1911-2007), a relatively conservative Democrat from southeast Seattle who nonetheless supported a state income tax, public power over private utilities, and other progressive causes that Day, and others, opposed. O'Brien had become speaker in 1954, and by 1960 he was deeply entrenched, a master of Robert's Rules of Order, an old-style pol who knew how to reward his friends and punish his enemies. In 1961 he was starting an unprecedented fourth term as speaker, and many thought he would hold the post for life, or at least for as long as his party held the majority in the House.
An equally canny Democrat, R. R. "Bob" Greive (1919-2004), a thoroughbred politician and a master at counting votes and keeping his troops in line, was the Senate majority leader. He and O'Brien ran a tight -- some would say stifling -- operation. Dissent was not suffered gladly, and the two leaders did not hesitate to gavel down and discipline those with whom they disagreed. This did not sit well with many, and the Democratic Party entered a period of internal ideological estrangement that would make Bill Day's name known far beyond Spokane and Olympia.
In contrast to the bickering Democrats, the Republicans appeared resurgent in 1960. A younger, less conservative, and less anti-labor group than the traditional G.O.P. strain had won several seats in the House and began to make their presence felt. This new breed was typified by such moderates as Dan Evans (b. 1925), who became House minority leader in 1960, Slade Gorton (b. 1928), and Joel Pritchard (1925-1997). Balancing this liberal trend west of the Cascades, Eastern Washington Republicans were electing young, very conservative candidates, and they also were becoming an influential force. Both camps were full of ideas and both chafed in their minority role. It would not be long before they would enter into a strategic alliance with dissident Democrats, led by Bill Day.
A major issue dividing Democrats was the decades-long debate over public versus private power. There were many points of friction: Should private utilities be permitted to build dams on the Columbia River? Should public utility districts be allowed to condemn and take over the facilities of private utilities? Should they be permitted to extend their services beyond their established borders? Old-line and liberal Democrats, mostly from the western half of the state, strongly supported public power. Conservatives, concentrated in Eastern Washington, were equally committed to unfettered free enterprise and protecting the rights of private utilities. In the 1961 legislative session, a handful of Democrats who were private-power advocates felt steamrollered by the party leadership, and it was a slight they wouldn't forget. The two camps also differed on a host of other issues, large and small. The Democratic Party may have been a big tent, but inside the tent there was a ruckus underway.
Tensions went very public during the Democrats' August 1962 state convention in Bellingham, when the entire delegation from Spokane walked out. The immediate trigger was a dispute over the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, a federal law whose purpose was "To protect the United States against certain un-American and subversive activities by requiring registration of Communist organizations ... " (Internal Security Act).
By 1962, Washington state's communist-hunting Canwell Committee had been out of business for 13 years, noted "Red" hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) of Wisconsin had been dead for five years, and the federal House Un-American Activities Committee was largely moribund. But the Soviet Union had put the first man in orbit in April 1961, and a great number of Americans still viewed the both USSR and domestic communism as existential threats.
Many Democrats, most from Western Washington, wanted planks in the party platform opposing loyalty oaths and calling for modifying the McCarran Act. Conservatives, most from east of the Cascades, were strongly opposed. On August 23, 1962, Bill Day moved to delete the plank on the McCarran Act from the platform. As described in a newspaper of the day:
"Day contended that the McCarran Act protects the people of the United States. He compared the plank, which sought modification of the act, to an article by Gus Hall, national Communist spokesman, pushing for repeal of the law" ("... Delegates Bolt ... ").
When Day's motion lost on a voice vote, Representative William McCormick of Spokane announced he could no longer support his party's platform. He and the other 24 delegates from Spokane, including Day, walked out of the convention. To most observers, it did not appear to be a spontaneous act.
The language often used to describe the Democratic factions may seem surprising in the twenty-first century. The Seattle Times noted: "The fight, which has gone on in hotel rooms and halls, centers around the more moderate elements of the Democratic Party, many of whom are from Eastern Washington, and a radical-left element of the party" ("... Delegates Bolt ... ").
Despite the divisions, O'Brien was elected, almost unanimously, as "permanent chairman" of the convention, mirroring his seemingly permanent status as Speaker of the House ("O'Brien Elected Chairman ..."). But his perceived invincibility would prove illusory and his record (at the time) reign as speaker be brought to an abrupt end.
Both sides in the Democratic dispute believed they were fighting for the soul of the party, and neither saw room for compromise. The convention walkout had made the divisions glaringly public, and the 1962 election was bad news for Democrats. Energized Republicans made a spirited try to capture the House and almost succeeded. The Democrats' majority was reduced to a mere three, 51 to 48, although they maintained a much more comfortable 32-to-17 edge in the Senate.
The stakes in the upcoming legislative session were especially high. Federal District Court Judge William Beeks (1906-1988) had recently ruled Washington's legislative-district boundaries null and void. Each district had two representatives, regardless of population differences, a violation of the "one person, one vote" rule laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Beeks ruled that the state's district boundaries were "invidiously discriminatory" (Thigpen, 211 F. Supp. 826, 830). He stayed further court action pending the outcome of redistricting efforts by the legislature. This left the drawing of new boundaries up to politicians who were not only deeply divided along party lines but also, in the case of the Democrats, deeply divided against themselves.
One of the first orders of business for the Democrats at their party caucus in Olympia on December 3, 1962, was the election of a candidate for House speaker. O'Brien was widely expected to win again, even though Day and Representative Robert A. Perry (ca. 1922-1991) of Seattle, a former Electrical Workers' Union official who had taken a very sharp turn to the right, had warned that under no circumstances would they support him. With only a slim majority in the House, these two lost votes would prevent O'Brien's reelection as speaker on the first ballot. This would open the door for Republicans to join with the Democratic dissidents to either elect one of them (probably Day) or to put a Republican (probably Dan Evans) in the speaker's chair. Nonetheless, the consensus speculation was that the wily veteran O'Brien would engineer a way to retain his seat. The consensus was soon proved wrong
By the time the full House convened on January 14, 1963, it was clear that O'Brien was in deep trouble. A unanimous plea from the Democratic State Central Committee for party unity (a thinly veiled endorsement of O'Brien) was ignored by the dissidents, who on the evening of January 13 had met with the Republican leadership at Day's Olympia home.
After the opening ceremonies of the legislature, the battle began. It was immediately obvious that the dissident Democrats had decided to work with the Republican minority to deny O'Brien another term as speaker. Governor Rosellini, an O'Brien supporter, called the arrangement "an unholy alliance" ("The Formation of the Coalition").
The first two ballots were inconclusive, but on the third ballot, all but one of the 48 Republican members voted with nine dissident Democrats to elect Day. O'Brien was out and Bill Day was in, thanks to the Republicans, his natural political foes. The logjam was broken when the Republicans began voting for Day, beginning (in alphabetical order) with Representative Alfred "Doc" Adams (ca. 1897-1989), a Spokane Republican and orthopedic surgeon who held chiropractic in disdain and had in the past battled Day over the regulation of his (Day's) profession. Despite all the lead-up, O'Brien seemed stunned, according to a Republican representative:
"John O'Brien was sitting about three rows over from us and he couldn't come straight through, the way the desks were positioned so he jumped over one and he came to where Dr. Adams and I were sitting and he put his hand on Doc's shoulder and he said, 'Let's talk this over a little bit. Let's talk this over.' Doc says, 'John, we've been talking this over for the last few years'" (Elmer Huntley ...).
Day was gracious in victory, telling the press, "To be elected Speaker a person naturally makes friends and enemies. But by the same token, once he is elected, he assumes the obligation to every member of the House to be as fair and impartial as he can be" ("Day Looms Large ... ). In the same interview, Day clearly spelled out his core political beliefs:
"I believe in the free enterprise system. I believe in taxing that system to support necessary government services. I think government should be in business only when it is impossible for private individuals to do the job" ("Day Looms Large ... ").
As for redistricting, the huge issue that lurked behind the political maneuvering of 1962 and 1963, the legislature proved incapable of accomplishing much of anything. In July 1964 the matter was back before the court, now a three-judge panel that included Judge Beeks, who wrote the opinion and did not attempt to hide his frustration:
"More than two years have now expired since the date of the original hearing without any accomplishment and the woes of reapportionment are still upon us. Like an echo from the past, we are again assured that the 1965 legislature will lawfully reapportion itself if we will stay the effect of our decree of May 27, 1963, and permit matters to proceed as we did in December, 1962. This we refuse to do" (Thigpen, 231 F. Supp. 938, 940).
The court's decision requiring action was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court later that same year. This finally forced the Washington legislature to redraw the state's legislative districts to conform to the constitutional mandate of one person, one vote.
One Year a Speaker
Bill Day's dramatic takeover of the speaker's chair in the House may have marked a high point of his career, at least in terms of broad public notice. Although the 1963 legislative session was more than ordinarily tumultuous and deep wounds festered in the Democratic Party, Day also received some praise:
"Day came comparatively green to the speaker's platform, but gained considerable success with his ability. He became well liked and admired even among many of the regular Democrats who wouldn't dare say so publicly, but will tell you so privately. The regular Democrats expected the coalition to fall apart for at least the first 45 days of the regular session, but if anything it got more solid, accomplished reforms in legislative procedures, worked hard, and really screened all legislation that came to the floor" ("When Good ... ").
Day's tenure as speaker proved to be short, however. In the 1964 election, Democrats increased their House majority to a comfortable 60 to 39 edge, although Dan Evans upset Governor Rosellini by a margin that indicated significant support from Democratic voters. Several Democratic candidates emerged at the party caucus in late November 1964 to challenge Day for the speaker nomination. The winner was Robert M. Schaefer (b. 1930) from Vancouver. With the party's larger majority in the House, there were no longer enough dissident Democrats to tip the balance, and Schaeffer's caucus nomination was tantamount to election as Speaker of the House.
In an effort to reconcile the party's warring factions, Day was given a seat on the critical nine-member Committee on Committees, and O'Brien was elected floor leader of the Democrats in the House. Nonetheless, in the 1965 legislative session, Day and fellow dissidents continued to vote with the Republicans on many key issues. Press reports leading up to the 1967 session indicated that the rift had been healed and the party united, but scars remained.
A Long Career
Day apparently picked up the label "Big Daddy" in 1961 when a fellow legislator tagged him with it. Given his imposing size, the nickname may have been inevitable, although it is quite likely that it was inspired in large part by Jesse "Big Daddy" Unruh (1922-1987), a legendary California Democrat famed as a master of backroom politics. However gained, Day accepted it with grace and good humor, once saying, "I don't resent the name ... . I'm a 300-pound man. Six foot three. I don't think you can be in politics and allow yourself to be too sensitive" ("Big Daddy").
Bill Day served in the House of Representatives through the 1967 session. The legislature was planning to begin annual sessions in 1969, and Day decided to make the move from the House to the Senate. In the election of November 5, 1968, he did just that, winning a Senate seat from the Fourth District that he previously represented in the House. As a senator, Day only had to run every four years, which may have been a factor in his decision to move up after five eventful terms in the House.
The late 1960s and early 1970s was a time of social and political ferment in America and much of the rest of the world. The civil rights movement, the women's movement, and the anti-war movement all gained momentum, and there was a concomitant drift to the left in the political arena. Bill Day, characterized in the early 1960s as a moderate, more and more became thought of as a fairly far right-of-center conservative. He had not changed, but society and the political vocabulary had.
Many of his views, especially his pro-labor stance, were still in accord with the majority of his party. During his last term in the House in 1969, he sponsored a bill to finally do away completely with the state's Basic Science Law, something he had advocated for years. When Republicans tacked on an amendment that would have allowed insurance companies to set rates for auto insurance without approval by the state insurance commissioner, Day announced that he would rather see his bill fail than have the insurance provision pass. He called the Republican proposal "a rape of the automobile owners" and added "obviously, I can't make my bill the vehicle for doing this to the people" ("Insurance Plan's Chances Dim").
Compared to the early 1960s, Day's remaining years in the legislature were sedate, but not unproductive. He remained a firm anti-tax, small-government legislator, as evidenced by his unsuccessful opposition in 1970 to a proposal permitting local sales taxes. On the other hand, the following year he sponsored a bill to require hospitals to justify rate increases before a new state board, a proposal that cut against the grain of his usual stance opposing government interference in private enterprise. Also in 1971, he introduced two environmental-protection bills, one that called for an increase in penalties for air or water pollution from a paltry $250 per day to $10,000 per day and another that greatly reduced the permissible level of phosphorus in soap.
The counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s remained a mystery to him, as it did to many adults of earlier generations. In 1967, while supporting a bill that would lift the alcohol "quarantine" around the University of Washington campus, Day could not resist saying of students: "They can drive to places they can drink now -- if they're not too full of LSD" ("Sale of Liquor ... "). But five years later, in 1972, he was a strong supporter of a bill that would address alcohol and marijuana in a more similar manner and concentrate on treatment rather than punishment.
Day was not one to engage in self-pity, but late in his career, while considering a run to become majority leader in the Senate, he opened up to a reporter from his hometown paper, The Spokesman-Review:
"What I wanted to ask you today was doesn't the paper want a guy from Spokane maybe to be the new majority leader of the Senate in 1981? That's all. Hey, I've been pretty good for Spokane" ("Big Daddy").
He never got the chance. In the 1980 election, the voters of Spokane retired Bill Day. It wasn't because he was too conservative -- they elected Bob McCaslin (ca. 1927-2011), a very conservative Republican, in his place, by a margin of 19,810 to 15,088. Rather, Day was inundated by the Reagan tsunami that swept the country that year. The Democrats held on to the state Senate by only one seat, 25-24, and even that would change the following year when Democratic Senator Peter von Reichbauer switched parties.
After his defeat, Bill Day picked up where he had started more than 20 years earlier, working as a lobbyist for the state chiropractors' association. He had served his Spokane constituents long and well, and were it not for the Republican sweep in 1980 it is likely they would have sent him to Olympia again. Had that happened, he probably would not have completed a fourth term in the Senate. William "Big Daddy" Day died in Spokane on May 27, 1984, at the relatively young age of 61. Later that same year his son Bill Jr. was elected to the state House of Representatives for Spokane's Third District.