WALLA WALLA -- Former state Senate Majority Leader Jeannette Hayner, a powerful presence in state government and state politics for two decades, died Friday at the Eagle Meadows Assisted Living Community. She was 91.
Jeannette Hayner, a longtime Walla Walla resident, 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.
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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 usually was 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.
Current Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said Hayner still is regarded as one of the best majority leaders to serve in the Senate.
"Her strength and wisdom were a personal inspiration to me, and to hundreds of others around our community and our state," Hewitt said. "It's been an honor to follow Sen. Hayner in representing the people of the 16th District and serving as leader of the Senate Republican caucus. Although Sen. Hayner is no longer with us, her legacy will live for decades to come."
Hayner received many honors for her achievements and her role as the Senate leader. She was the founding chairwoman of TVW and played a critical role in getting the network started.
Her husband, Herman "Dutch" Hayner, died in February. The Hayners lived in Walla Walla County since 1947.