Andy Hill was a Republican state senator from northeast King County who survived stage IV lung cancer before going on to a successful stint in the Washington State Senate. Known for his calm demeanor and ability to work with both sides of the aisle, Hill is remembered for his skill in negotiating the state's 2013-2015 and 2015-2017 budgets, which (among other things) first froze, then lowered, tuition at state universities. He also sponsored legislation that provided desperately needed funding to thousands of families living with a developmentally disabled child or adult. He was considered a rising star by many, but his Senate career was cut short when his cancer returned.
Andy Hill was born on October 12, 1962, in Denver, Colorado. He went to college at Colgate University in New York, and his online legislative biography noted that during his college years he coauthored research papers published in national scientific journals. However, he was not all work and no play, and he also captained Colgate's soccer team. He graduated cum laude in 1986 with high honors in physics, with a second emphasis in computer science and mathematics.
Hill spent two years at a software startup before earning his MBA at Harvard Business School in 1990. That same year he was recruited by Microsoft to work as a program manager in the Windows division and moved to Washington. He settled in Redmond on King County's Eastside and spent the next 11 years at Microsoft. He was involved in the development of the well-known Windows 95 program and also developed learning and content-delivery software for K-12 schools. Like some other Microsoft employees during the booming 1990s, Hill did very well financially. He retired in 2001, a year before his 40th birthday.
Hill spent most of the next decade focusing on his family-- he and his wife, Molly, had three children: Katie, Allie, and Charlie -- and working in the Redmond community. He served as treasurer and president of his local PTSA and he also tutored and mentored students, focusing in particular on helping advanced math students. He served as president of the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association, was a board member for 10 years, and is remembered for his efforts to have nine new athletic fields built at the 60 Acres soccer field in Redmond. All in all, life was good.
An Unexpected Turn
Hill's health took an unexpected turn in the autumn of 2008. He developed a chronic cough, migraine headaches, and fatigue. At first his doctors thought it was pneumonia, but treatment didn't alleviate the symptoms. Other diagnoses were postulated over the next several months, but they were all wrong. When Hill began coughing up blood, his doctors ordered a computerized tomography scan (commonly known as a CT or CAT scan) and in March 2009 diagnosed him with stage III lung cancer. Stage III meant the cancer had already spread out of his lung (in his case, his left lung) and into his lymph nodes. The news was a shock. Hill had never smoked and was active physically; he later said he'd been playing soccer and lacrosse the week before the diagnosis.
He began chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but these were not successful. Because the cancer had already spread to his lymph nodes, initial plans to remove his left lung were canceled. He went to Portland to see if he could qualify for an experimental treatment, but a CT scan there showed the cancer had spread to his right lung. Eventually his cancer progressed to stage IV (the final stage), and Hill grew steadily weaker. Climbing steps exhausted him. Then he lost his voice.
He refused to give up. He did his own research online, worked closely with his doctors to consider alternative treatments, and learned about a clinical trial for a new drug therapy. The drug, crizotinib, targeted certain genetic mutations in active cancer cells. Luckily for Hill, he had the specific mutation that the drug was designed to target. He was accepted into a clinical trial in Denver in October 2009 and began taking the drug twice daily. The results were almost miraculous. After a week, his fatigue began to dissipate. By the end of the second week, his voice had returned. After the third week, he was jogging with his wife. In February 2010 -- just four months later -- Hill's CT scans showed no detectable cancer. This didn't mean he was cured. Still, his prognosis was very good, and it was a remarkable turnaround from where he'd been just a few months earlier.
A Second Chance
"I had a clean slate and a second chance," Hill said in a 2013 interview with The Seattle Times (Garber). During his illness he'd relinquished all of his responsibilities, yet he found that community service was something that deeply resonated with him. It was 2010, an election year, and he decided to run for the state Senate representing Legislative District 45, which included parts of Kirkland, Redmond, Sammamish, and Woodinville and all of Duvall. He ran against incumbent Democrat Eric Oemig in both the August primary and the November general election. Oemig had been elected in 2006 but proved to be a little too liberal for the Eastside. In endorsing Hill, The Seattle Times explained "Oemig is a Seattle-style liberal in a district much more moderate ... by contrast, Hill offers the potential for strong leadership and a sharp focus on priorities of economic growth" ("The Times Recommends …"). The promise of economic growth was catnip to voters who were enduring the Great Recession in 2010. Hill won the primary by a 3 percent margin and the general election by 2 percent.
He arrived in Olympia in January 2011. Public education had been one of his passions for much of his adult life, dating back to his Microsoft days when he developed software for schools. He became frustrated with the school system when his children began attending public schools, and it was one of the issues that prompted him to run in 2010. So it was fitting that much of his first two years in the Senate was devoted to education: He served on the Senate Higher Education Committee (and became a ranking member) and on the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. He later co-chaired the Quality Education Council, and he was a member of the Joint Select Committee of Education Accountability. He also served on the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.
In 2012 Senator Joseph Zarelli (b. 1961), the Republican budget writer and negotiator in the Senate, resigned. There was some speculation that Hill might be tapped for the job and, when Zarelli's term expired in early 2013, he was. Then came an unexpected surprise. Democratic senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon announced they would caucus with Senate Republicans, which gave the Republicans a one-vote majority in the Senate. Hill became the chief budget writer as well as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which handles the state's operating and capital budget bills and its tax policy. It was arguably the most powerful chairmanship in the Senate; The Seattle Times noted "the post generally goes to more senior lawmakers with deep political connections" (Garber).
Writing Budgets and Funding Families
Hill turned out to be a natural for the job. His math acumen, his Harvard MBA, and his background as a program manager at Microsoft were a good fit for a position that required a detailed understanding of complex figures and spreadsheets. A few skeptics -- including House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter (b. 1961), a Democrat who was the chief Democratic budget writer and who worked closely with Hill to hammer out agreements for both the 2013-2015 and 2015-2017 budgets -- initially questioned whether Hill was ready for the challenge. "I would not have been ready to do this after two years," said Hunter, adding "But he's a smart guy, and he's calmer than I am" (Garber). It was precisely this courteous, steady calm that helped Hill succeed, and it wasn't lost on his fellow legislators. Remarked fellow senator Dino Rossi (b. 1959), "It takes a certain person to put up with people yelling at you, and not react" (Garber).
Hill faced a formidable challenge in negotiating the state's $33.8 billion 2013-2015 budget, and the legislature was called into two special sessions as negotiations continued. As the threat of a partial state-government shutdown loomed, an unexpected boost in the state's revenue projections helped Hill work out a compromise with both Democrats and Republicans, and the budget passed by impressive margins (the biggest in nearly 70 years) with only four no votes in the Senate and 11 in the House. The new budget enabled the state to invest $1 billion in its public schools, but there was more good news: Hill was also able to freeze tuition rates at state public universities and colleges for the first time since the 1980s. All this while following the Republican philosophy of keeping taxes in line.
In 2014 Hill sponsored Senate Bill 6387, which ultimately became known as the Vulnerable Individuals Priority (VIP) Act. The bill was born out of frustration over a decades-plus-long waiting list to receive family-support funding provided by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to families of developmentally disabled persons who could demonstrate a need for it. This funding provided reimbursement for costs such as special-needs camps, speech and occupational therapy, and medical and drug bills. At one time this funding was not difficult to obtain; in the late 1990s the waiting list was less than a year long. But the number of applicants cascaded after the turn of the century, and by 2014 there were nearly 15,000 names on the list, some of them for more than a decade. Lower-income families in particular were desperate for the funding, which in 2012 was a maximum of $3,000, tax-free, per year.
The VIP Act tapped a new federal Medicaid program created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The program increased the share in which the federal government covered the state's Medicaid costs by 6 percent, which translated to $40 million a year in Washington state. But there was a catch -- the additional 6 percent applied only to certain Medicaid services provided in a community setting. The DSHS family support-funding was provided for precisely these services. Hill successfully shepherded the bill through the Senate, and it passed unanimously. The bill provided funding in 2015 for family support services for 4,000 families and for employment support services for another 1,000 recipients, with funding for another 5,000 families in each of the next two years.
The 2014 Election
Hill was unopposed in the August 2014 primary, but he faced newcomer Matt Isenhower (b. 1980), a senior project manager at Amazon, in the general election in November. Hill found himself competing not only against Isenhower but also against California billionaire Tom Steyer, who spent millions of dollars in elections around the country in 2014 in an attempt to elect lawmakers who were aggressive about dealing with climate change. Shortly before the election, The Seattle Times reported that Steyer had donated more than a quarter-million dollars to groups opposed to Hill, but Hill likewise received contributions from out-of-state organizations. The Hill-Isenhower race ended up being the most expensive legislative campaign in the state that year, with about $1.5 million raised between the two candidates, while outside groups spent nearly that much on the race. Hill won reelection handily, by a margin of more than 5 percent.
Hill was not without his detractors, and they'd been front and center in the 2014 campaign. There were, of course, the standard "too conservative" arguments one would expect in Western Washington, and his detractors viewed him as being too friendly with big oil companies. (This concern wasn't wholly without merit. A 2015 Seattle Times article observed that Hill had been one of the biggest recipients among Washington legislators of oil- and gas-industry campaign donations since 2012.) However, his biggest Achilles' heel was his seeming ambivalence on the issue of climate change. Despite endorsing Hill once again in his 2014 reelection run, The Seattle Times commented that "he shows a lack of curiosity about climate change" ("Editorial: In 45th District ..."). Hill disagreed, contending that he felt climate change was a serious issue, but one that "really is a national and international issue" ("Eastside Race ...") and that state government should deal with global warming in ways that wouldn't hurt the state's economy.
A Rising Star
The Republicans held the state Senate in the 2014 election, and Hill returned as Ways and Means chairman in 2015. That year's negotiations over the $38.2 billion 2015-2017 state budget went through the same contortions and stalls that had occurred two years earlier, except the 2015 legislative session was extended into three special sessions. Once again the threat of a government shutdown loomed, and once again Hill successfully resisted significantly raising taxes, arguing "like a looped recording" ("Sen. Andy Hill ...") that existing taxes were enough to fund the government. He was careful to publicly explain new Republican budget proposals and to respond to Democratic proposals, in part through a series of informational Web articles titled "Windows into the Budget." His strategy worked: Various Democratic proposals for tax hikes faded away, though the Republicans did compromise by ending a few tax exemptions of their choosing. Hill's tenacity was aided by a booming state economy in 2015, as well as by additional federal funds directed to the state that hadn't been considered in early budget negotiations.
Hill had another noteworthy success in the 2015 budget. His 2013 budget had frozen tuition at state universities and colleges, but the 2015 budget actually reduced it. The new budget also increased funding for state parks at a time when they were in dire need of it. His success in the budget negotiations furthered his reputation as a rising star, and rumors began to circulate that he might challenge Jay Inslee (b. 1951) in the state's 2016 gubernatorial election. Hill soon nixed these rumors and instead spent the early months of 2016 working on ways to reform Washington's mental-health system, particularly seeking to improve conditions at Western State Hospital in Lakewood (Pierce County).
In June 2016 Hill announced that his cancer had returned. Though he issued a statement in September saying treatment results looked good, it was not to be. He died on October 31, 2016.
Socially Hill was rather more liberal than many state Republicans, but more in keeping with the people of his district. He was one of four Republicans in the Senate to vote in favor of same-sex marriage in 2012, and in 2016 he was one of three Republicans to vote against repealing a rule that allowed transgender individuals to use the restroom and locker room matching their gender identity. (The attempted repeal failed by one vote.) He supported abortion rights, and he supported the state allowing students without legal residency access to financial aid.