Ornery opponent to Locke?
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA - When Rep. Jim Clements, a Republican from the Yakima Valley, talks about a possible run against Gov. Gary Locke, he talks about porch dogs.
Sometimes he's the porch dog, looking sleepy but guarding the door closely. Sometimes Locke is the porch dog, afraid of the first sign of trouble. And sometimes the porch dog is just a porch dog. "My porch dog can run from the porch to the fence in three seconds," he says.
Clements, 55, may not be well-known in Western Washington. But his independent streak, willingness to work with Democrats and steady stream of country aphorisms have made him a popular lawmaker with unusual respect from both parties. And that has led to at least semi-serious talk that he might be a candidate for governor.
In his five years in Olympia, most people first heard about Clements in the retelling of one of his corn-pone sayings or farm metaphors.
It's not just dogs, either. There are cats in stovepipes and explosives in toilets. When he wanted action on corrupt nonprofit agencies, he said the secretary of state needed to be the Terminator or maybe the Lone Ranger.
On an explosion of gambling, he said: "They gave away the farm. The horse is out of the barn and running down the street." When the state agreed to a gambling review: "We're finally going to pull the sheet back on this corpse and take a look."
Of politicians who hog the glory, he says, "They're like the rooster that takes credit for the sun coming up."
`He's our Jesse Ventura'
Clements says he won't run if Republican Party Chairman Dale Foreman, a more likely candidate, does.
And it would be a long shot if Clements, a three-term Eastern Washington lawmaker, ran against Locke, a popular, well-financed incumbent from Seattle.
Questions about a Clements candidacy are almost always initially greeted with a chuckle over the color he would add to the campaign, particularly against the strait-laced and serious governor.
"Most of the time he's ornery as hell, but he does have a soft spot," said state Rep. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle.
"He's our Jesse Ventura."
But in addition to collecting their favorite Clementisms, lawmakers have unusually high praise for him. Legislators in both parties say he is always willing to talk about an issue. His word can be trusted, he's not afraid to change his mind, and he's the same in private as he is in public.
That those things are applauded rather than expected as minimum requirements for the job may say more about Olympia than Clements.
An apple grower and former school teacher, Clements hews to a pretty straight Republican line but bucks the party more than many.
Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, says he has developed a real fondness for his Republican counterpart in the two years they have worked together. He drove to Clements' Selah ranch in late 1998 as the two got ready to take leadership of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. It was a get-to-know-you retreat before their forced marriage as co-chairmen, mandated by the unusual split of 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans in the House.
"I appreciate Jim's openness and honesty," Conway said. He says Clements is just as folksy in one-on-one negotiations as he is when the TV cameras are rolling. "Jim is always Jim."
"He's not trying to spoof you," said Republican House Co-Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee. "You don't have a lot of mixed messages when Jim talks."
Clements' family came to the Yakima Valley on the second wagon train after the Civil War. They were engineers, road and dam builders, and apple growers.
He was born in Yakima in 1944. As a young man, he built roads, blasted holes for tunnels and cut down trees all over the state. Then, he became a teacher and a principal in a school district near Sun Valley, Idaho.
In 1978, his family persuaded him to return to Yakima to take over the family apple orchard. He built that up to a major corporation, growing hops as well as apples.
He became president of the Washington State Apple Commission. It was in that post that he drew attention from Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, who persuaded him to run for the state House in 1994.
In the Legislature, Clements has led investigations of wrongdoing in nonprofit social-service agencies, battled the expansion of legalized gambling, and promoted the state's apple industry.
He gets low marks from environmental organizations and labor, and high marks from business and farm groups.
"Jim has always shown a willingness to talk to us," said Robert Stern, a lobbyist with the Washington State Labor Council. "But when it's a choice between business and labor, he always chooses business."
Of elk and schoolkids
With Republicans in control of the House in 1995, Democrats saw a chance to embarrass Clements for a bill he had introduced to buy food for starving deer and elk in Eastern Washington. The bill was moving through the Legislature even as Republicans were refusing a Democratic request to increase funding for school lunches for low-income students.
Poulsen had prepared amendments to the budget making fun of the elk bill, including a provision to impose residency and work requirements on deer and elk that would get state aid, just as is done on welfare recipients.
He expected Clements to get mad. Instead, Clements argued on the House floor that if there were money to feed game there was money for poor kids.
"He saved that program by giving the most powerful speech he's probably ever given," Poulsen said.
`Women and children first'
While Democrats were thrilled to have Clements co-sponsor a bill protecting breast-feeding in the workplace, he admits to an old-fashioned view of the sexes.
"In some ways I'm a fallback to a take care of the women and children first. Nothing comes before that."
On abortion, Clements says he opposes it personally but that there is no point in trying to make it illegal. He'd rather concentrate on foster care and adoption services.
"This is the most divisive thing we've had in our state. And I'm a Christian, but I'm a very quiet Christian. I don't bandy that around."
"And this idea comes from the wife, she says, `Hey, you've got to bring these forces together on behalf of people.' You have to have groups like Planned Parenthood and Human Life come together."
"Do you understand?"
Conversations with Clements often come with questions like that, as well as commentary and even warnings that people might not like what he says.
Hello? Bob who?
"You're not going to want to hear this, but what this state needs is a good dose of a Republican governor. Now, I'm not saying it has to be me."
That was Clements in January 1999, which at least raised the question that it could be him.
He made similar comments last fall, in earshot of lobbyists at the Association of Washington Business' annual retreat at the Inn at Semiahmoo in Blaine.
The next week the phone rang at the ranch in Selah, and Clements ran out of the shower to answer it. He wasn't wearing anything, not even his hearing aids.
Clements said he thought it was Bob Parlette, husband of Rep. Linda Parlette, and he was asking about talk that Clements might run for governor. Is that true?
Sure, Clements said.
Can I quote you? the caller asked.
Clements quickly figured out that it wasn't Bob Parlette who got him out of the shower, but Bob Partlow, a veteran statehouse reporter for The Olympian.
"I figured I could pour water on that fire or gasoline. I chose gasoline," Clements said. He told the reporter he was considering a run against Locke.
A `look-good' governor
While the newspaper story may have come as an accident, he has done some thinking about how to run against Locke. He had been critical of Locke even before the Democrat became governor.
He criticized him in 1995 when Locke was King County executive and the county was looking for money for a new stadium. Clements is still refining that message.
"To mount a campaign against Gary Locke has to focus on what I think are fundamental weaknesses of his leadership," Clements said. "He is terribly apprehensive and cautious. I don't dodge issues. Gary Locke has more blue-ribbon commissions and more panels and more people out there that are doing his job, and that's a weakness."
Polls show Locke with unusually high popularity ratings, with many voters pointing to his personal attributes as the reason they are happy with the job he has done for three years.
Clements calls Locke a "look-good and feel-good governor." But he is also aware of the value of having a good personal story.
Locke's story is one of immigrant roots leading to an Ivy League education and a career of public service.
A high shelf in Clements' Olympia office is filled with antlers from antelopes, mule deer and bighorn sheep. There are boxes of shotgun shells, including the box of Monark 12-gauge shells his grandfather gave him 41 years ago. Leaning against the wall is the board his grandmother used to stretch animal skins.
"I have the spirit of this state in my body," he said.
Applauded by Democrats
Late last month was likely the highlight of Clements' legislative career. He and Conway, the Tacoma Democrat, shepherded a major rewrite of the state's unemployment insurance program, which had pitted labor and business against each other for seven years.
He popped into a closed-door Democratic celebration after the 96-1 vote and got a rousing round of applause and a bottle of sparkling apple cider for his work.
During debate, Clements grabbed the House's attention with a story about a college prank that he said showed the dangers of unexpected consequences.
He said he made a bet about what would happen if he dropped a small explosive into the school's plumbing.
"I won the four dollars, but at the time it went off the proctor's wife was on the toilet," he said. While lawmakers laughed, Clements said, "I'm serious. . . . Now this is the point," though the point seemed to be lost on most of his colleagues.
He realizes that he sometimes needs simultaneous translation. As for the cat in the stovepipe, Clements said that's how cats were castrated in the old days.
"You understand?" Clements said. "You wouldn't want to be that cat."
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