Grappling with the Politics of Washington…State, That Is

By Lavinia Edmunds

Seal of the State of Washington

Adam Kline (l) and Fred Finn are dedicated to Washington state residents.

They were two dedicated Washington state politicians out to support a beleaguered candidate on election night at a local restaurant, when someone mentioned the city of Baltimore.

“Baltimore?!” In the Pacific Northwest, it sounded almost like a foreign country.

“I’ve been there,” volunteered State Senator Adam Kline ’68.

“I went to Hopkins,” replied Representative Fred Finn ’67.

“So did I,” said Kline. So in 2007, the two Johns Hopkins graduates, who had been just one year apart at the Krieger School, met for the first time, politicking in a state 2,800 miles away from where they had begun more than 40 years ago.

The paths of these two New York natives have diverged and converged since they started out at Johns Hopkins—both as psychology majors—at opposite poles of the tumultuous political atmosphere of the 1960s. Kline, who characterizes himself as a “foot soldier” in his generation’s battles, took time off from his Johns Hopkins studies to work for an anti-poverty project, sponsored by the radical Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Greenwood, Miss. Witnessing the racial discrimination there was “life-changing,” he says.

During that same era, Finn had signed up for the Army and was assigned to an anti-aircraft operation based in Huntsville, Ala.

Their academic interests converged with law school. Kline attended University of Maryland in Baltimore, and Finn went to Fordham University in New York City. Finn wound up in Washington, D.C., as a partner in a downtown law firm, and served as president of Home Satellite Television Industry. Kline’s more peripatetic route took him to distant lands working on a Swedish ship, and then back to Baltimore to work as a reporter.

So how did they both end up in Washington state serving in the state Legislature?

“I was 40, driving along the George Washington Parkway, thinking I don’t know what I want to do next,” recalls Finn. A client sent him to Seattle to check the market for a radio station.

“It was a beautiful summer day, water all around,” recalls Finn, who from his cell phone, describes eagles soaring and other wildlife cavorting outside his living room window. He sold his practice to his partners, bought the radio station, and later dealt in commercial real estate. Along the way, as a father of young children, he grew involved in education issues and served as a school board president. Then in 2007, he won election to the Washington state House of Representatives.

Similarly lured by the natural beauty and climate of the state, Kline did not hesitate to accept a job offer from a legal services project in Seattle. He enthusiastically describes his surroundings during an interview by cell phone. “I am sitting on a log with my dogs in the middle of a virgin forest in Seward State Park. We have salt water, lakes, and mountains in every direction. I am so happy I came here.”

A private law practice led Kline to get involved in civil rights issues. In 1997 he was appointed to fill a vacant term in the Senate. He recently won an overwhelming vote for reelection to his seventh term. Not surprisingly, both men belong to the League of Conservation Voters, which works to promote smart growth. But apart from the fact they are both Democrats and Hopkins alumni, most of their political positions are at odds. Kline, an unabashed liberal who represents African American and Asian constituents as well as many unemployed people in Seattle’s 37th district, is a proponent of spending more federal money to create jobs and does not shirk the idea of adding a state income tax (Washington has no state income tax) for the strapped state economy. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has been involved with legal issues, protecting civil rights of the disenfranchised and middle class.

Finn, who settled in rural Thurston County, staunchly opposes raising taxes. He notes that their approaches to politics differ according to the needs of their districts as well as their political philosophy. “Adam’s district is very urban and very liberal; mine is more blue collar and rural.” So Finn is involved with protecting the life of the salmon, the geoduck (pronounced gooey duck), and other sea life, which is a thriving industry in his district. He is proud of working to pass environmental laws to clean up Puget Sound and Hood Canal, as well as education reform.

Avoiding the acrimony of the U.S. Congress, both Kline and Finn have found that the Washington state Legislature is a good place to build consensus. Their collegiality, rooted in their Johns Hopkins connections, continues despite their differences in political philosophy. The two men chat and occasionally get together for a drink, a Hopkins alumni event, or dinner. Kline still has the fervor of his student activist days, but the passion is infused with judgment. “When my name came up for the Judiciary Committee, some thought I was too liberal. But I do what a chair does, act on the behalf of the whole caucus. I get that,” says Kline.

After this session, Finn will return to develop some real estate projects in his district. The legislative job, which pays $42,000 per year, requires full-time attention, so he has had to set aside his business for a while. “It’s been a wonderful experience, and I think we’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had that gridlock [seen at the federal level].”