WALLA WALLA -- Former state Senate Majority Leader Jeannette Hayner died Friday at the Eagle Meadows Assisted Living Community at the age of 91.
Hayner, a longtime Walla Walla resident, was a powerful presence in state government and state politics for two decades.
"She was a very important figure to everyone, not just to Walla Walla but to her family, her community and the state," her son, Jim Hayner, said this morning.
Jeannette Hayner served on the Walla Walla School Board from 1956 until 1963. She was elected to the state House in 1972. Four years later she was elected to the Senate. Within three years she was elevated to Senate Republican leader. The Republicans took control of the Senate, soon after making Hayner the first woman to serve as the majority leader.
Hayner was one of two women in her graduating class at the University of Oregon law school. Hayner, however, did not consider herself a feminist or a trailblazer. "I treated everyone as individuals, not as a male or female," she said in a 2004 interview.
Hayner remained as the GOP leader in the Senate until she retired from the Legislature in 1993.
Hayner was highly respected by her fellow Republicans as well as Democrats for her political acumen, her pragmatic approach and the way in which she treated her colleagues with respect.
The Republican majority in the Senate during Hayner's tenure was usually a thin one, often only one vote. She instituted her Rule of 13, which called for all the Republicans in the Senate to vote in favor of legislation if the majority -- usually 13 or more votes -- favored it.
"I decided we were never going to be an important voice in the Legislature unless we stuck together," Hayner said in a 2004 article in The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest magazine that focused on six powerful women from the region.
Hayner has said dealing with the budget problems was among her most trying -- as well as satisfying -- experiences in government. The state faced a huge fiscal crisis, similar to the one facing the state today, at the time Hayner took over as majority leader. The revenue shortfall was $900 million and the state was in the midst of a deep recession.
Former House Speaker Joe King, D-Vancouver, said Hayner was able to work with Democrats who controlled the House to find a solution. Her willingness to find common-ground solutions was praised at the time by Democrats and Republicans.
"She's my favorite conservative," King said in 1992 when Hayner announced she would not seek re-election. "I really appreciated Jeannette. We were able to solve a lot of our state's problems despite some strong philosophical disagreements. Without Jeannette, it is unlikely we would have solved our $900 million budget problem."
Hayner received many honors for her achievements and her role as the Senate leader.
In 2005, Washington state's public affairs television network named its new studio in her honor. Hayner was the founding chairwoman of TVW and played a critical role in getting the network started.
Hayner pushed for the creation of a public affairs network so all of the state's citizens would be able to stay informed about their government. TVW went on the air in 1995 with Hayner at the helm of the bipartisan board of directors.
Her husband, Herman "Dutch" Hayner, died in February. The Hayners were residents of Walla Walla County since 1947.
U-B reporter Terry McConn contributed to this report. Rick Eskil can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8309.