Jayne: Jim Moeller contentedly ponders his political future

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor



Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

Jim Moeller simply couldn’t stay away. Old habits, after all, are difficult to break — especially when you have spent the previous 14 years as a member of the state Legislature.

So, on Monday, as lawmakers kicked off their 2017 session, the erstwhile legislator from Vancouver made the trek to Olympia and watched the proceedings from an unusual vantage point — the public gallery.

He saw Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, get sworn in to the legislative seat Moeller had held for seven terms, representing the 49th District. He watched Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, take over as speaker pro tempore, a position previously held by Moeller. And he reflected upon the fact that maybe civilian life isn’t so bad.

“It was wonderful,” Moeller said in a phone interview. “It was truly freeing.”

For the first time in 22 years, Moeller, a Democrat who is as blue as a 1903 Picasso painting, does not hold elected office. He spent eight years on the Vancouver City Council, followed by 14 years in Olympia.

But last year, he decided to not seek re-election to the House of Representatives, declaring an intention to run for lieutenant governor before eventually challenging for Jaime Herrera Beutler’s congressional seat. Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, easily won another term with 62 percent of the vote — in part because she is popular among constituents and in part because Moeller got a late start on his campaign.

For Moeller, it marked the end of a 10-campaign winning streak — if you count a 2013 race to be a Clark County freeholder. “Things keep on going,” he said. “You wake up the next day and go, ‘Well, I lost.’ But I don’t know how people look at it as a loss. Even by running, you win. I don’t have any regrets; life is constantly changing.”

Will he be back?

Politics, as anybody who has been there will tell you, have a way of getting into your soul. And for Moeller, the journey has been unexpectedly lengthy.

“I actually was going to do my shtick on the city council and get out,” he said. “I was going to do four years and get out. But I liked solving people’s problems.”

So Moeller kept serving and kept running and kept winning, earning 62, 53, and 61 percent of the vote in his final three elections for the Legislature. Along the way, he kept building on a legacy as an unabashed liberal from an unabashedly Democratic district.

Reflecting upon his time in the Legislature, Moeller counts the disinvestment of state retirement funds from Darfur among his proudest moments, and says he will most miss serving on the House Health Care & Wellness Committee.

Moeller also spent plenty of time in Olympia tilting at windmills, often pursuing tax increases or changes to what he feels is the state’s oppressively regressive tax structure. Politics, as he sees it, aren’t always about winning but often are about fighting the good fight as you perceive it to be.

Meanwhile, Moeller has retired from his day job after working for 30 years at Kaiser Permanente, primarily as a chemical dependency counselor. That has freed up the opportunity to ponder a political future, even as he notes the temporary pleasures of not being in office: “I’m looking out my picture window, at the snow, and it truly is beautiful — the sunshine and the birds flying by.”

“I’m still weighing my options,” he said. “I’ve still got the city council, and I’ve got the county council. I’m 61. I have a lot to live; I have a lot to give. I think I can join the leadership going in and be an asset, not a detriment.”

There also is the possibility of another run for Congress, with Moeller joking that he has campaign signs and campaign literature left over from last year’s race. “The party in power usually loses seats in the midterm election,” he said. “Let’s just say that Jaime shouldn’t get too comfortable.”

So don’t be surprised to see Jim Moeller on the ballot again in the near future.

Old habits, after all, are difficult to break.