Blair Butterworth, a longtime campaign and public affairs consultant, and whose clients were a veritable Who’s-Who list of Northwest Democrats, died today after a lengthy illness. Over the course of more than 30 years, he advised such political titans as Washington governors Dixy Lee Ray, Mike Lowry and Gary Locke. In 2008, he worked with former Governor Booth Gardner, in helping to guide the I-1000 campaign, making Washington the second state in the U.S. to adopt a Death with Dignity Act.
“He was one of the few truth-tellers in Washington politics,” said consultant Christian Sinderman, who teamed up with Butterworth on I-1000. “He brought a refreshing candor to an all-too-often cynical political culture. We lost a real giant.”
It is safe to say there’s probably not a political reporter in Washington and throughout the Northwest who didn’t have Butterworth in their Roledex.
Blair worked many statewide and local ballot initiatives on issues ranging from education to women’s right to choice, parks and open space, hand gun control, gay rights, transportation, and marijuana policy.
Butterworth’s death, reports Seattle PI.com political columnist Joel Connelly, was disclosed Friday afternoon on the Facebook page of U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who described his longtime friend as “a class act to the end.”
Butterworth was a tall, imposing, deep-voiced presence, a person who managed to act a bit self-important while poking fun at himself for acting a bit self-important. He could be strongly opinionated, but nobody was better at keeping confidences than Butterworth when he served as an adviser to Gov. Gary Locke.
Butterworth was a Princeton graduate, part of the original staff of the Peace Corps, and first came to Seattle as regional chief of the U.S. Economic Development Administration. He fell in love with the city, and settled permanently in the early 1970′s as head of the Health Policy Analysis Program at the University of Washington.
He was called upon to advise 1976 gubernatorial candidate Dixy Lee Ray and found himself in an afternoon-long argument with the feisty marine biologist. Butterworth ended up managing her campaign, in which Ray won the Democratic primary and general election on a shoestring budget.
Butterworth was famous for saying, “We thought she would be the best governor Washington ever had, or the worst, and we were right.”
He was back four years, managing the primary campaign of State Sen. (now Congressman) Jim McDermott against Gov. Ray. McDermott blew Dixy out of the water, winning by more than 80,000 votes only to lose in November to Republican John Spellman. Spellman, in 1980, was the last Republican to be elected Governor of Washington.