Origins of CHECC
In 1966, a group of young, bipartisan, Seattle-area business and professional people carried out a successful campaign against Washington state's "Blue Law" or Sunday-closing law, which prohibited the sale of liquor as well as the operation of many businesses on Sunday. The group working on repeal of this law included some of the future CHECC founders, and this experience led them to think that it might be possible to create a bipartisan action group to back new candidates for City Council, which are officially nonpartisan offices.
Also in 1966, some among the future CHECC founders and leaders joined Seattle’s College Club, where, led by Llewelyn Pritchard, they began to campaign for the club’s desegregation. On May 13, 1968, Seattle's College Club welcomed Ester Wilfong as its first African American member.
According to CHECC founding member Peter LeSourd, formation of the group began in December 1966 when Richard Bushnell, immediate past-president of the Young Republicans, approached David Wood, treasurer of the Metropolitan Democratic Club. Discussions between them developed and were joined in short order by members of the Seattle Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Who Was CHECC?
Contrary to several sources, including an earlier version of this essay, the founders and leaders of CHECC were almost equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. This information is based on a handwritten running tabulation of CHECC executive board members kept at the time by 1967 chair Peter LeSourd, the recollections of Richard "Dick" Bushnell, a memo of meeting attendees dated March 24, 1967, made by John Watson, and interviews conducted by LeSourd in 2006 and 2007.
Based on the same sources, of the 28 people who attended founding meetings and/or served as officers or committee chairs in 1967, most were under 30, more than half were lawyers, and at least 17 had grown up in the Seattle area or lived there since their college days. At least 10 obtained their bachelors’ degrees from Puget Sound area universities, five had Harvard University degrees, and seven others
graduated from other non-local universities.
In the 1967 Council elections, two CHECC-sponsored candidates, Tim Hill and Phyllis Lamphere, won with large majorities (about 46,000 more votes for Lamphere and 21,000 more for Hill). Sam Smith, Seattle’s first African American Councilmember, was supported by many CHECC members but failed to get enough votes for endorsement. Smith won against Bob Dunn for Position 2. George Cooley, whom CHECC would endorse in 1969, ran against Phyllis Lamphere in this election.
CHECC voted to continue as a group and formalize its structure and goals shortly after the election on November 16, 1967. The group endorsed candidates and campaigned for reforms such as Forward Thrust, a major King County works program with bond proposals encompassing transportation, community housing, water issues, and other publicly financed capital improvements.
Elections and Reforms
In 1969, CHECC endorsed City Council candidates George Cooley, Don Wright, Joan Thomas (1931-2011), and Liem Tuai. Liem Tuai and George Cooley won. George Cooley beat Allied Arts patron Robert J. Block for a seat in this election. Wright and Thomas lost to police officer Wayne Larkin (ca. 1927-2009) and Democratic Party veteran Jeanette Williams (1914-2008) respectively.
In the summer of 1970, John Hempelmann, a former Henry M. Jackson aide, put new energy into CHECC. That year The Seattle Times broke a story about semi-shady, loop-hole contributions to Councilmembers, which gave the group a new target. This and other Council “waste and abuse” issues, including disclosure of Councilmembers’ contributions, revived CHECC’s influence. In 1971 CHECC endorsed the re-election campaigns of Tim Hill, Phyllis Lamphere, and Sam Smith, and also helped to elect John Miller. Bruce Chapman was also elected in 1971, but was not endorsed by CHECC, although he was a founding member. Randy Revelle was CHECC-endorsed and elected in 1973.
In 1972 political commentator and journalist David Brewster wrote:
"Never numbering more than about 250 members, CHECC has made the most of its skills: A deft way of getting media coverage by providing well-researched and newsworthy charges; an ability to focus energy on one problem at a time, such as electing Tim Hill to the City Council in 1967 ... and some powerful behind-the-scenes lobbying" ("Now That the Political Wars Have Been Won ...").
CHECC voted itself out of existence on June 27, 1977. The group's legacy, besides the council members it helped to elect, is the reforms it helped to bring about to Seattle's campaign finance laws, environmental policies, citizen participation, neighborhood empowerment, and many of the civic values we take for granted today in Seattle.