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July 26, 2021

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Longtime Clark County legislator Albert ‘Al’ Bauer dies at 92

A noted education advocate, he was instrumental in establishing WSUV

By , Columbian staff writer
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As a former history teacher turned state senator, Al Bauer was known throughout the state for his knowledge of and support for public schools.
As a former history teacher turned state senator, Al Bauer was known throughout the state for his knowledge of and support for public schools. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Albert “Al” Bauer, who for 30 years represented Clark County residents in the Washington Legislature, died after suffering a stroke late last week. He was 92.

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center confirmed Bauer’s death Wednesday morning after contacting his next-of-kin.

The lawmaker’s legacy includes crucial investments in the state’s education system, including the establishment of Washington State University Vancouver. Bauer was remembered by his colleagues, mentees and friends this week as an honest man and pragmatic politician who always kept a keen eye on the lessons of the past.

“He was a history teacher. So that’s what he cared about. You couldn’t have a conversation with him without bringing it back to some historical precedent,” said Denny Heck, Bauer’s lifelong mentee who currently serves as lieutenant governor of Washington. “He cared about the little guys and the little gals. That’s what he cared about the most.”

Bauer was born in Montana in 1928 and came to Southwest Washington at 8 years old. His junior year, he dropped out of high school to work in a cannery — a few years later, he obtained his GED and enrolled in Clark College.

He then enlisted in the Navy, serving six years that included the Korean War. He came home, re-enrolled at Clark, and finished his degree in 1955 before transferring to Portland State University for his bachelor’s degree and Oregon State College for a master’s in education.

He eventually became a teacher at Columbia River High School, where his history students included Heck. Bauer was also a cattle rancher, and he worked on his farm in Salmon Creek.

“You talk about common sense — he had the common sense of a farmer,” said local union leader Ed Barnes, who worked closely with Bauer on labor issues for more than 30 years. “It was a great experience to be able to be associated with somebody who was honest, and said what he thought, and thought it out very carefully.”

In 1970, Bauer won his first election to the state House of Representatives. A Democrat, he served his first term in the 17th Legislative District before moving to the 49th, where he’d serve another four terms in the House.

In 1980, he won a bid for the state Senate. He’d remain in the seat for another 20 years. He never lost an election.

“None of them were even close,” said Heck, who worked with Bauer in the Washington Legislature for several years before he was elected to Congress. Heck attributes the achievement to Bauer’s mentorship.

“The truth of the matter is, he had a list of accomplishments as long as your arm. He was very effective — very effective. He knew how to leverage any advantage, which is a very high compliment in my business,” Heck said.

According to Barnes, the lawmaker’s strong principles commanded respect on both sides of the aisle in Olympia.

“He was very partisan in one way, but he was nonpartisan in another way — when it comes to the best interest of the people in Southwest Washington and the state of Washington. He looked out for everybody’s interests,” Barnes said. “I don’t think any Republican legislator down here could ever criticize him for doing what was not in the best interest.”

As an elected leader, Bauer’s main focus was education. He sponsored a bill that would establish the state’s Running Start initiative, allowing high school students to obtain college credits before graduation.

He introduced the legislation that would establish the Learning Assistance Program, an investment to help keep students between kindergarten and third grade from falling behind. In the state’s latest biennial budget, the program received $1.4 billion.

Bauer’s name is emblazoned on Clark College’s Bauer Hall, which for nearly a decade had served as the initial location of WSU Vancouver before its permanent home was built in Salmon Creek. In 1989, Bauer had sponsored the legislation that formally established the satellite campus.

“Al valued his own education, taught for 20 years, and mentored new teachers,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said. “Then, for nearly 30 years, he served Southwest Washington in Olympia and mentored new public servants. Al has a special place in our hearts, and we owe him our deepest gratitude for his public service and community advocacy.”

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.

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