Walgren recalls time when lawmakers had perk with cops

07 sample license with heart

Rachel Pritchett’s Sunday piece about the rise and fall of lawyer and former lawmaker Gordon Walgren is filled with fascinating tales from the capitol rotunda. 

Yes, there was Gamscam, that brought Walgren crashing down. But another tale, in particular, raised my eyebrow. From her story:

“The chief of the Washington State Patrol routinely gave leaders — including Walgren — stacks of small plastic sleeves with “legislator” stamped for lawmakers to slide over their driver’s licenses, should they be stopped. The practice worked fine, for a while. But an unimpressed Eastern Washington trooper ticketed one anyway, the press picked up on it, and the questionable practice was abandoned.”

I called Walgren Tuesday to ask him about it. He said the sleeves had “LEGISLATOR” written in red, diagonally across the sleeve, about a half-inch in size.

He said he always felt the idea was a free pass to get out of speeding tickets, but nothing more serious than that.

But, as Pritchett pointed out in the story, the practice ended with one ticket in Eastern Washington.

“And that was the end of the program,” he said.

Interestingly, just weeks before, I had gotten a Facebook inquiry from a local reader  about this practice after we ran a story about the Department of Licensing’s operation of a secret fictitious licensing program. It got me curious to the point that fellow reporter Ed Friedrich and I made a couple calls.

I spoke with State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who said he had no such thing, never has. Friedrich asked Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, if she and other lawmakers had “LEGISLATOR” written on her driver’s license.

“I can’t even imagine anything so awful,” she responded. “Not true.”

So today’s lawmakers have no such thing. But the ones of yesteryear appear to have gotten a perk that lasted at least a few years, until an Eastern Washington police officer did the right thing.




17 thoughts on “Walgren recalls time when lawmakers had perk with cops

  1. Sharon… “Who started it and why?” Really?

    How about influence? The chief of the Washington State Patrol occasionally needed the ear of legislators. If he knew they had gotten away with speeding or DUI, he knew he could get their support for important legislation. It’s the way the game is played.

  2. That’s outrageous…..in most states they have a brass plate with a state symbol embossed on it and affixed to vehicle fender which in effect sez “Don;t tread on me” (I sign your checks and can turn you into a toll collector with the stroke of a pen). If true the one who invented the “sleeve” should get harpooned for being a groveling azz kisser” But generally that’s the stairway to the stars and bars on your lapel.

  3. I’ve thought the state patrol head and shoulders above police departments – even the county sheriff department – the best officers went to work with the state patrol. generally speaking they were the best educated, best trained and best paid.
    Above reproach … Or- maybe some wise ache
    Politician made up the ‘sleeves’ and passed them out as a joke.

  4. Josh — I must say nice job hanging this on Walgren. Everybody had the “free pass” license holders, but you nail him. Why? Because he wrote a book trying to cash in on his years as a crooked Olympia pol?

  5. Gordon Walgren cleared up a lot of confusion with his book. He picked his co-writers/editors giving credibility to the content of his book and the time lines and as you said Stone, that’s the way the game is played.
    The main theme beyond the political – this is a man who lived his life to suit himself and didn’t quit when many others would have grabbed the baseball and gone home. Ultimately he prevailed backed by his devoted family and friends.
    We all do stupid things – he moved on and I thank him for writing this book.

  6. Why not do a piece on the off duty Bremerton cops getting a free pass on Redflex’s red light camera tickets? It’s right there in the open.

  7. Some states, like Vermont which I have seen, issue special plates to their legislators so it is obvious to anybody that a nearby driver is a legislator. I’ve heard that in DC Congressman can get special plates.

  8. In iowa, congressmen and senators can not be legally pulled over while in transit to and from the state house. apparently there was a history of police and sheriffs pulling over legislators in attempts to manipulate votes….

  9. It’s human nature that people will always look for ways to get an edge. We should expect it and do everything we can to discourage it. It’s still going on all around us everyday. Look at how Congress just gutted the STOCK act. Public officials are enjoying special privileges in our own town today. They should pay attention because they will be found out and it will be made public.

  10. While I don’t know the exact details I heard a story about five years ago regarding someone fairly high up in state government who started across the Tacoma Narrows bridge without paying the toll. Apparently she got partway across, realized her mistake and attempted to back up and pay the toll but was not allowed to.

    From what I heard she pulled something similar to Reese Witherspoon and basically gave the bridge workers a hard time.

    Never saw anything about this in the news.

  11. Sharon,

    It is still there in our Constitution for the same reason that other states have it too… so the Governor can’t order the State Patrol to delay Legislators and potentially influence the vote count on legislation or intimidate members of the Legislature.

  12. Kathryn: How does it play out the ” hands off” legislators ended with the ticket given by the eastern Washington state patrol officer when it’s still in effect today?

    Good research! Sharon

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