Senator Karen Fraser received our Lifetime Citizenship Award during the LWVTC Luncheon on October 29th. This coming January, Senator Fraser celebrates 50 years of public service, having served as State Senator (6 terms), State Representative (2 terms), Lacey Mayor and City Council Member (first woman for each), Thurston County Commissioner (second woman), Legislative Liaison for three state agencies, citizen lobbyist, nonprofit organization advocate, and Adjunct Faculty at The Evergreen State College.
Senator Fraser has provided effective leadership on a wide range of important issues---women, labor, environment, community development, consumer protection, cultural affairs, and state level international relations. As a long-term LWVTC member, she has consistently promoted core League values, particularly making democracy work for citizens, civility in government, and promoting the informed and active participation of citizens.
Responding to questions, Senator Fraser reflected on early influences in her life, including gaining an appreciation for other places and peoples from her immigrant Irish father. Her parents’ divorce contributed to her developing a high tolerance for conflict, an early awareness of the legal system (“it’s in the divorce decree”) and exposure to nontraditional gender roles. Growing up in a home without a television, she learned how to schedule herself at an early age, in order to go to neighbors’ houses in time to view her favorite TV shows. Her modest upbringing and church influenced her views about social justice and concern for individuals and society.
At Roosevelt High School, in Seattle, Senator Fraser particularly enjoyed an elective class on “Contemporary Problems” taught by Earl Prebezac. In 1962, she spent part of her summer working in the executive suite of Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty. There, she got her first hand view of politics, working as a secretary for two of the Mayor’s constituent relations staff, listening to City Council meetings over the speaker system, and attending his weekly large press conferences.
After graduating from the University of Washington (UW) with a BA in Sociology, with departmental honors, she intended to pursue graduate work in sociology. Immediately upon graduation, she was awarded a Ford Foundation Legislative Internship position with the Washington State House of Representatives. At that time, the Legislature had very little staff, and no regular intern program. She was placed in a regular staff position---Committee Clerk to the House Health and Welfare Committee, the sole staff position for that committee. She organized all the committee meetings and paperwork for the committee, including preparing and posting all committee meeting notices (hand typed on orange paper using carbon paper and taped up on selected marble pillars throughout the Legislative Building), typed up amendments, and called and recorded committee members’ votes in closed executive sessions. She later learned there had been some reservations about hiring a female intern, but that she had “won them over” paving the way for other women.
As a result of this experience, she modified her career goals. She earned a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the UW, from what is now renamed the Evans School of Public Affairs and Governance, and returned to Olympia to work for state agencies, principally doing agency legislative liaison work---for the Department of Highways, for the Planning and Community Affairs Agency, and for the Employment Security Department.
In her off-work hours, she became very actively engaged in the women’s movement and in state employee union work. She was a leader in the Thurston County State ERA campaign, was State Legislative Coordinator for the dozen chapters of the National Organization for Women, was active in the endorsement processes for the Women’s Political Caucus, and much more. As a Delegate to State Labor Council conventions, she joined with women from several other unions to permanently increase the Council’s attention to women’s workplace issues.
She was one of the first three women who were appointed together to the Lacey Planning Commission by then Mayor Albert Van Andel. In 1973, she was appointed to a vacancy on the Lacey City Council, becoming its first woman member. In 1976, the City Council elected her to be Mayor, the first woman mayor. In 1980, her passion for saving the Nisqually Delta convinced her to leave her job as Legislative and Congressional Liaison for the Employment Security Department, to run for Thurston County Commissioner. Upon her election, she became the second woman, after Marge Yung, another long term League member. She became very active in the Washington State Association of Counties, culminating in being elected the first woman President of that organization.
After serving two terms as Thurston County Commissioner, she ran for State Representative from the 22nd District, in 1988, to succeed then State Representative Jolene Unsoeld, who had chosen to run instead for Congress. She served two terms in this role, when then State Senator Mike Kreidler chose to run for Congress. Her senior colleague in the House, Jennifer Belcher, was running for Commissioner of Public Lands, so Representative Fraser announced her candidacy for State Senator, in 1993. She is now completing her sixth term.
The legislative leadership was impressed by her in-depth experience in local government, including tackling difficult environment and land use issues, and in both the House and Senate asked her to serve on committees with jurisdiction over environment and natural resources issues. On her first day in the Senate, she was appointed chair of the standing committee on Ecology and Parks, and continued to chair related committees for many years. Other major leadership positions her Senate colleagues selected her to hold include: Senate Democratic Caucus Chair (6 years), Capital Budget Chair (6 years), chair of the joint Senate and House committees on pension policy (chair three times), and chair of the Senate’s administrative committee
Her leadership has made a critical difference to Puget Sound protection and restoration, oil spill prevention and response, shoreline management, water quality and water resources, air quality, environmental health, waste management and recycling, reducing toxic pollution, and more. During the years she chaired the Capital Budget, approximately $1 billion was invested in infrastructure in Thurston County.
Senator Fraser’s influence reaches far beyond the Senate. She has been a major legislative leader in state level international relationships. She has led three state-level trade/friendship delegation to Asia, has been an invited speaker at four international conferences, and has promoted international student exchange. For about 15 years, she has served as Adjunct Faculty in the Master of Public Administration Program at The Evergreen State College---teaching classes on legislative policy making, the relationships of state government to federal/tribal/local governments, and environmental policy. Her many awards include an impressive range of international, national, tribal, state, and local honors.
Personally, Senator Fraser is the surviving spouse of Tim Malone, retired Senior Assistant Attorney General, known for his keen legal mind, cheery presence, and commitment to public service. They were married for 37 years, and have one adopted daughter, who with her husband, have two daughters.
Together, they loved life in Thurston County, traveling, hiking, climbing, running, sailing, working, and enjoying many mutual friendships.
Asked what she intends to do in retirement, Senator Fraser says she intends to stay active in public life, “fluff-up” her personal life, and take more time for more outdoor recreation. She is currently revisiting some classic literature---including recently listening to Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice on CDs---appreciating their significant insights into human relationships.