The outpouring of affection and admiration from across the political spectrum for the late state Sen. Andy Hill shows the value and, unfortunately, the rarity of his style of leadership.
Hill was as genial as he was competent. As the Senate’s chief budget writer since 2013, his priorities reflected a centrist Republican view that taxes should be generally avoided, but government’s responsibilities to children and vulnerable populations absolutely could not be shirked.
Hill’s legacy includes the state’s historic increase in education spending – from prekindergarten expansion to college-tuition reduction – and his innovative strategy to dramatically reduce by 5,000 a yearslong waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities.
His budgets set aside historic levels of savings and helped keep the region’s economy humming. Hill’s first biennial budget passed with the biggest bipartisan majority since the end of World War II.
His legacy also should be the way he navigated Olympia’s divided political waters. Hill was cool and calm even when standing in the eye of the storm. He was one of the most powerful people on the Capitol campus, but he never seemed to relish the spotlight, preferring to scoot between wonkish budget meetings with his head down, his backpack over his shoulder.
He was a tough, fiscally conservative budget negotiator, but avoided dogma and demonization of opponents. He set a new mold for King County GOP politics in voting for gay marriage and helping kill last year’s transgender bathroom bill.
Hill could have easily found other pursuits after winning a longshot battle with lung cancer in 2009. He had a successful career at Microsoft. He cultivated a robust youth-soccer association and was a devoted family man. Given a second chance, Hill chose public service. “I don’t sweat the small stuff,” Hill would say. “I’ve been through worse.”
Hill’s death this week, at age 54, to a recurrence of lung cancer, cuts short his service and potential. As health troubles plagued him during this year’s legislative session, Hill was still coming up with smart ideas for reforming Washington’s troubled mental-health system and for freeing up more money for education through responsible pension changes.
He will be missed.