WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Stritmatter Firm would like to recognize Representative Lynn Kessler, Washington State Legislature’s top lawmaker and a fierce champion of Women’s rights.
EARLY LIFE IN SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
Lynn was born and raised in Seattle in the Denny Blaine neighborhood. She attended Holy Names Academy and Seattle University. As a single mother, she raised three boys – Bill, Chris, and Brad Moore.
In 1980, she married a young trial lawyer by the name of Keith Kessler and added him and his daughter Jamie to her family.
Not the least bit concerned about nepotism – after all, the Stritmatter firm began in 1970 as the father and son team of Lester and Paul Stritmatter – Keith was thereafter flanked in the firm by Brad and Jamie.
With the Stritmatter firm based in Hoquiam, Lynn left her job as Office Manager of Atomic Press (a fine art lithography printing company in Seattle) and moved south to Hoquiam, Washington.
LYNN’S EARLY CAREER
In short order, Lynn became Executive Director of the United Way of Grays Harbor, coordinating funding for social service agencies at a time when loggers and sawmills experienced a harsh economic downturn due to a judicial ruling protecting the spotted owl habitat, effectively shutting down the logging industry in the Harbor. Witnessing an epidemic of joblessness, depression, alcoholism, and child and spousal abuse among families throughout Grays Harbor, she was determined to fight for the people impacted by the mill shutdown.
She went to Olympia and testified before the Legislature, describing the plight of her community. When the Legislature failed to provide help for the thousands of displaced workers, Lynn was determined to take a more direct and active role – she ran for the State House of Representatives. And won.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Her fresh approach to government – listening – caught the attention of her colleagues and the press. In her first year, she was selected as #1 in Integrity among all members of the House of Representatives. Nationally, she was proclaimed one of the Top 100 Legislators by the National Democratic Committee.
Recognized by her peers for her leadership skills, Representative Kessler was elected House Majority Leader, serving twelve years in that role. In that capacity, she was the face of the Legislature, speaking candidly with the Press Corps on key legislation. Her candor earned her the Freedom Light Award by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association in 2007.
Substantively, Representative Kessler sponsored key legislation on issues impacting women. These measures included legal protection for survivors of domestic abuse and stalking, enabling survivors to leave their employment and/or break a lease without consequence in order to escape violence and hardship. The impact of the new law was substantial, with one grateful woman telling Lynn that her bill saved her life.
The 1992 election brought with it a significant increase in the number of women legislators in the State of Washington. While women in some states comprised only 1% of their legislative body, Washington boasted 40%, and this team of women legislators put their large contingency to work. Lynn played an active role in an effort by women in both parties to address the fact that the only prescription drug subjected to a sales tax was the birth control pill. With their forces united, Washington’s women legislators refused to vote for the budget unless the birth control pill sales tax was eliminated. They won.
Lynn’s focus on social issues extended to the LGBTQ community where, as part of the House leadership, she worked for recognition of such fundamental rights as housing, lending of credit, and employment. What began as a movement in support of fair treatment of domestic partners led over time to the legalization of gay marriage. That movement, and Lynn’s role in achieving that success, is detailed in a book just published by the Secretary of State’s Office, entitled Love, Equally: The Journey to Marriage Equality (2023), authored by State Historian John Hughes. This account of tireless advocacy, little by little, year after year, presents a strategy of patience that Lynn and others dubbed “slowly boiling the frog”. A fascinating journey of courage.
Lynn served as State Representative for 18 years, from 1993 through 2011. Her 12-year tenure as House Majority Leader was the longest in state history.
In 2010, she was selected by the National Council of State Legislatures as the Most Effective Legislator in the nation.
VIEW LYNN RECEIVING HER AWARD:
HER MANY AWARDS INCLUDE:
- National Legislator of the Year (Excellence in State Legislative Leadership, National Conference of State Legislatures) (2010)
- Key Award, Washington Coalition for Open Government (2007)
- Freedom Light Award, Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (2007)
- Legislator of the Year, Welfare Advocates Group (2008)
- Legislator of the Year, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association (2004)
- Louise Miller Advocacy Award, Washington State Arts Alliance (2003)
- Cynthia Gillespie Award, Northwest Women’s Law Center (2002)
- “100 New Democrats to Watch in 2000”, Democratic National Committee (2000)
- Most Effective Public Official, Twin Harbors Readers Poll/The Daily World (1995, 1996, 1997)
Her 2010 retirement announcement was met with much sadness from both Democrats and Republicans alike. And though she is officially “retired,” her work on behalf of important public issues continues. As sponsor of the legislation that created the “Sunshine Committee” – designed to ensure open government – Lynn has remained engaged in a battle to prevent the Legislature from blocking access to public records, ensuring that public matters are handled in public meetings.
In 2018, lawmakers used “legislative privilege” as a basis for their ill-fated attempt to exempt themselves from the Public Records Act. Lynn’s challenge – “What are you trying to hide?” – was quoted on the front page of newspapers across the State. After 19,000 Washingtonians wrote the Governor in protest, he vetoed the bill. Today, she is again engaged in the latest episode of this battle over public records. Again, the Legislature seeks to place a cloak of secrecy over public records. Likewise, Lynn’s challenges are being quoted in the press, relying on the Preamble of this law:
“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.” (RCW 42.56.030.)
She is as vital and active as ever.
According to Keith – who unabashedly loves her: “Lynn’s credibility is the result of a lifetime of integrity. She remains a champion of thoughtful, powerful women.”