LLast Thursday, many gathered to honor a man who was always proud to have grown up in Walla Walla, who advised presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama, who helped draft the Civil Rights Act of 1964, who was instrumental in opening up trade with China, which co-founded one of the largest shipping companies in the country and is committed to ensuring that all children have access to education. Last Thursday, as I reflected on the contributions of my mentor and friend, I realized that as we in Washington grapple with the issues of our time, we would be well served to follow the path blazed by Stan Barer.
Stan, who died in December, left his mark in the early 1960s as a legislative aide and later as US Senator Warren Magnuson’s chief of staff. Shortly after graduating from UW law school, still firmly rooted in eastern Washington, Stan authored the landmark sections of the Civil Rights Act that prohibited corporations from discriminating against people on the basis of race or creed. As a Jewish teenager, Stan was discriminated against. At 23, he wrote, then helped lead the Senate, language banning segregated toilets, food counters, hotels, and all racial discrimination in commerce.
A few years later, Stan’s interpretation of foreign policy and maritime law allowed the first Chinese commercial vessel to arrive in the United States. His work opened up business between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. The hundreds of millions of dollars of agricultural products exported from eastern Washington to China are possible thanks to Stan Barer.
By the time I met him in 1983 while working for Republican Gov. John Spellman, Stan’s prominence in the shipping industry was such that Republican Spellman wanted anything to do with the Democrat-led shipping business barer. There is a lesson there.
Years later, after starting my own company, Stan encouraged me to run for a seat on the Seattle/King County Harbor Commission. Along with former Republican Gov. Dan Evans, he co-chaired that campaign. Here is a man who welcomed the Clintons into his home, who hung out with John Kerry, the US Democratic senator and presidential candidate, and who helped raise the careers of young Democrats in Washington State, who was helping me also, me, a Republican. There is a lesson here for all of us. Stan, who was fiercely partisan, respected ideas and imagination more than ideological blindness, and he was open to working with people he sometimes disagreed with. He understood that it is in such work that progress can be born. We can honor him by putting this lesson into practice.
Although from different political parties, Stan and I agreed on more than we disagreed, but it was the similar roots that I think tied our friendship together. Stan grew up in Walla Walla, working as soon as he was old enough. After graduating from college he worked in Washington, D.C. I was born just over the hill from Morton, grew up at the base of the Olympic Mountains, and came to DC wearing a cowboy hat. boy, where I did my university studies. Because of our rural background, we shared a commitment that every child, no matter where they grow up, should have access to a quality education. Stan has supported his commitment by philanthropically funding several scholarships and educational programs and establishing the Barer Institute for Law & Global Human Services at UW.
About a decade before his death, Stan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was one of the few who beat him, for a while. After his torturous treatment and recovery, no one would have blamed Stan if he spent his remaining time fishing, and he certainly did a lot. But there’s a lesson in how he spent his final years, too. He took on a bigger challenge than any of us and was not intimidated by the odds. Understanding that there was little prospect for meaningful progress on climate change without China’s participation, he founded the United States-China Clean Energy Forum and sought ways for China and the United States to United to collaborate to reverse CO2 emissions. He understood that imposed restrictions were likely to be less successful than mutually undertaken initiatives. There is also a lesson.
Stan’s accomplishments and priorities should shape how we move forward on the issues we face. In an age of “cancellation culture” and overt, sometimes violent bigotry, we must recommit to ensuring that everyone is treated equally and with dignity. At a time when children in affluent school districts are in some cases scoring twice as high in language and math as children in rural and more diverse schools in Washington State, we must recommit to providing every child quality education. At a time when reducing CO2 emissions is essential, we need to understand that there can be many ways to achieve the same goal and be open to cooperative and alternative approaches. At a time when our relationship with China is strained, we must look for opportunities to build ties.
Above all, let’s always be ready to drink a whiskey or two with someone from a different political party.
Bill Bryant, who served on the Seattle Port Commission from 2008 to 2016, ran against Jay Inslee as the Republican candidate in the 2016 gubernatorial race. administration of the Nisqually River Foundation and was appointed by Governor Chris Gregoire to serve on the Ecosystem Council of the Puget Sound Partnership. He lives in Winthrop, Washington.