I was born in the last six months of the Roosevelt administration, and that no doubt has set my political compass. That, and my family: Mom was a union teacher, and Grandpa, a tailor by trade, came to New York from Kiev because he wasn’t a friend of Czar Nicholas. I absorbed very early the attitude of people who had escaped the Holocaust and whose relatives hadn’t. Dad joined the Army in World War II. The civil rights movement hit full tilt just as I got to college—below the Mason-Dixon Line, in Baltimore, in 1962. I have no trouble saying that I am a product of my times.
After four years of military high-school, I left my home in a small town in New York state to attend Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore—though it took me a bit longer than most to graduate, since I interrupted my education to spend time in a voter-rights project in Greenwood, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964, and took off the next year to work in a community-organizing project operated by Students for a Democratic Society in the East Baltimore ghetto. After graduation in the winter of 1968, I got a job as a very junior seaman aboard a Swedish ship, the Gripsholm, washing dishes in the crew’s mess. (I got my sea legs, learned Swedish, smoked more than my share of hash, and saw European and Russian harbors on the cheap. Not bad.) Then back home to take up what I thought would be my life’s work as a newspaper reporter, first for a small town weekly, then back to Baltimore to work for the Baltimore Afro-American, then finally the Baltimore Sun. It is not by accident that I have sponsored a bill that protects news reporters’ sources, and that I have served three years on the committee that reviews exemptions to the Public Disclosure Act. Free speech is a necessity in this Republic, as is an educated electorate. As the role of newspapers declines, and the papers themselves are bought up by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, I have some concern that the electorate will become ever more easily fooled—and the last administration showed us just how easy it is to manipulate the opinions of folks who are not paying attention. But I digress.
Really, not every Jewish kid has to go to law school, it’s not mandatory. But my brother Tony did, and I did, and I like to think I did more as a lawyer than I might have as a newspaperman. The law school of the University of Maryland is right between downtown and the West Baltimore ghetto—so we got a choice where to intern within walking distance. I interned with the Legal Services office, and with a lawyer’s supervision I represented tenants in disputes with their landlords. My contribution to the Law Forum was an article on the state’s new landlord-tenant law. Law school wasn’t fun, but the school’s courtyard was divided only by a low brick wall from the churchyard where Edgar Allan Poe was buried, and his grave was a good place to sit on a sunny lunch hour. We read The Raven; we made the most of it. Best of all: the Orioles were hot, and bleacher seats were four bucks.
I met Desire Plumb, a schoolteacher, in 1970, and we married the week after law school graduation in 1972, and moved to Greenwood, Mississippi, where I got a job with North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. There, I represented inmates at Parchman Farm in the aftermath of a lawsuit that had been filed and litigated by NMRLS and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Our job was to enforce the federal court’s order, which in this case meant filing motions frequently to hold the warden in contempt of court for non-compliance with provisions requiring humane treatment of the prisoners working the 16,000-acre cotton and soybean farm. I was the baby-lawyer on the team. It was a slow process, and it taught me just how ingrained was the bureaucracy’s and the entire society’s resistance to all notions of progress for black folks. In Greenwood, I got to know the sheriff; he was a decent man in a hard spot. On a personal level, rural folks in the Delta are as friendly as they come, but there was an edge to the place, which was palpable when we visited small towns on weekends, places like Black Hawk and Coila, over in Carroll County, or Money, up near Grenada, just to walk around and talk with folks, and find the local barbeque. There is no way a couple of northern white 20-somethings in a VW bug are not going to stand out in small cotton-towns in the Delta, where the talk is long and slow. And it didn’t help that in my spare time I read every novel Faulkner wrote.
By the end of the second Delta summer, we were pregnant. Time to get serious. When a call came from a Legal Services project in Seattle, Washington, offering me a job, I took it right there on the phone. Seattle’s on the ocean, right? Beaches! And cool weather, Oh Yes! And they have schools.
Genevieve Amanda Kline was born here in the cool blue North. A redhead—there was nothing subtle about her hair, it was neon—she had her mother’s big brown eyes, and a giggle like Woody Woodpecker. It seems she also inherited her mother’s love for the Greek classics, for stories of the gods and goddesses. She and her husband Matt—he’s a keeper, a mensch—now have two little redheaded girls of their own, and so I know that boy is exactly twice as lucky as I was, if that’s possible. They are Sophie, almost six now, and Penelope, who just had her first birthday in June. Ask, and I’ll show you pictures.
Desire and I parted in 1979, and I moved down the street, where I lived for the next seven years without a TV. (I recommend very strongly that TVs be turned permanently Off. This can be done with a baseball bat.) I had left Legal Services in 1977 to start my own law practice in Pioneer Square, and soon found what it’s like to start a small business. As I gained experience, I found I most enjoyed trial work, representing injured persons, mostly in auto accident cases. As a distressing number of clients had been hit by drunk drivers, I became involved in Mothers Against Drunk Driving, eventually becoming chair of the King County chapter, and volunteering my time to lobby in Olympia. (Years later, as a Senator, I passed one of the bills that I had lobbied for.) Given my interest in free speech and the press, it was only natural that I signed on as a Cooperating Attorney with the ACLU, and litigated a challenge to state and local laws that attempt to limit the time when people may place political yard-signs in their yards. My first argument in the State Supreme Court resulted in a 9-0 decision holding such laws unconstitutional. Over the last 20 years, I also I served on the boards of various progressive organizations, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Washington Citizens for Recycling, and Washington Conservation Voters.
Another organization on whose board I served, and later chaired, was Danceworks Northwest, a modern dance troupe. In late 1986, when a guest choreographer created a pair of dancers specifically for non-dancers, one for lawyers and another for basketball players, I thought that might be fun, and auditioned. A bunch of lawyers and basketball players showed up at the audition, and one of them was Laura Gene Middaugh, a lawyer who had until recently been a nurse. We married in 1989. (Yes, I got a role in the performance, and no, it had nothing to do with me being chair of the board.) Laura Gene is now a judge in the King County Superior Court. We have two dogs, both pound-puppies, Foxtrot and Golda, who are regulars at the Genesee Off-Leash Area and in Seward Park.
I was first appointed to the Senate in January 1997, to fill the vacancy left by Dwight Pelz, who was appointed to the County Council to fill the vacancy left by Ron Sims, who was appointed King County Executive to fill the vacancy left by Gary Locke, who was elected Governor. I was elected in November 1997 to the one year remaining in Dwight’s term, and then again for full terms in 1998, 2002, and 2006. All in all, I have served 14 legislative sessions as your Senator. I have been assigned to various Senate committees over the years, including Ways and Means, Labor and Commerce, Government Operations, Rules, and closest to my heart, Judiciary, which I have chaired for eight years. I am now one of the more senior members of the Democratic Caucus.