Terry Nealey grew to embrace politics

Race for 16th District state representative

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Terry Nealey, Republican candidate for 16th District representative, didn’t always want to be a politician, but he almost always wanted to be a lawyer.

For many, dreams are spawned by encounters with influential mentors. For Nealey, his dream was inspired by watching "Perry Mason" on his black-and-white television as a kid.

"I thought, you know, I’d like to do what he does," Nealey said.

Like many of his potential constituents, Nealey was raised on a farm. Born in Walla Walla, Nealey and his twin brother were raised on a wheat, cattle and hay ranch in Whitman County, where they moved shortly after their birth.

Nealey credits his upbringing on the farm with teaching him "work hard at a young age." By bucking bales, Nealey and his brother earned money to start their college education at Whitworth. Both athletes, the twins played basketball before transferring to Washington State University.

With the Vietnam War escalating, Nealey and his brother began ROTC to "try to go into the military in the best way possible." After graduating from WSU in 1969, Nealey served as a military police lieutenant for two years, stationed in Maryland for the first year and Korea for the second.

Nealey credits officer training with giving him direction for his career.

"There were a lot of young lawyers that taught the legal courses, and I was impressed by who they were and what they did ... I thought I’d be good at that, so I decided to go to law school when I got out of the military," Nealey said.

After earning his degree from Gonzaga Law School, Nealey looked for a place to raise his family and start a practice. Having grown up in a small, rural community, Nealey stuck with his roots and moved with his wife and two young children to Dayton.

Nealey still operates his practice, where he represents primarily individual and collective agricultural and business interests. His work as a lawyer gives him ample opportunities to get to know the people of his community.

"I find that they usually come in to talk about business questions, what entity to form or tax-related issues, and I find that I end up counseling them about not only business matters but life matters, life decisions," Nealey said.

In addition to his work in the private sector, Nealey has gained experience in the public sphere. He was elected county prosecuting attorney for four terms and was appointed U.S. bankruptcy trustee, representing unsecured creditors.

"It’s been a very interesting part of the law. I kind of kept my finger on the pulse of the economy."

Nealey’s plan hasn’t always been to run for public office. Nealey’s father, who "thought that being a farmer was the most honorable profession ever," was involved in politics and eventually served in the Legislature. Nealey’s visits to his father’s office gave him the idea that one day he might follow in his father’s footsteps.

It wasn’t until 18 months ago that his campaign was set into motion by reading a newspaper article about the state’s budget problems.

"I thought, ‘this isn’t right.’ We need to do something about it. There was nobody else around I felt was more qualified than me so I decided to step up and do it," Nealey said.

Nealey lost the race to incumbent Rep. Bill Grant, who died two months after the election. Nealey was faced with the decision of whether to campaign again. With abundant financial and personal support, he decided to do it, and has been campaigning for 15 out of the past 18 months.

Nealey conceded that campaigning has been a substantial time investment — and a tiring one — but said he enjoys the opportunity meet people.

"That’s the favorite part of the campaign is meeting people. People are very interesting to me, and I enjoy seeing what they’re about," Nealey said.

WIth the election approaching, Nealey is busier than ever. When asked how he’d spend his ideal day, Nealey’s two-part answer revealed the conflicting desires of relaxation and productivity: "To be able to go swimming and golf, that’d be my dream in the cold weather. But realistically it’s more of a working day. To meet with people and meet with clients, accomplish things, solve problems."

When he’s not meeting with people and listening to their problems, Nealey can be found reading or playing basketball. Though he’s now a grandparent, Nealey hasn’t let that stop him from enjoying his favorite sport. In addition to coaching several teams, including one that won the state championship, he and his brother put together an over-60 team that won the gold medal at the national tournament in Utah.

If elected, Nealey’s first move will be to study the budget. "That’s why I ran in the first place, and that’s what we need to get under control before we can start dealing with any of these programs," he said,

Nealey was also confident he would put the communication skills he has learned from his legal career to work.

"One of the greatest challenges we have is just plain lack of communication. If people would just communicate what their issues are and not hold their problems back or inside we’d be a whole lot better off," Nealey said.

Iris Alden can be reached at irisalden@wwub.com.

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