Even late in life, Al Bauer was a gentlemanly voice of reason and cared deeply for his community.
As recently as April 7, in a letter to the editor published by The Columbian, Bauer reminisced about his father and shared a quote about the environment: “Nature is working 24 hours per day to put a brand-new suit of clothes on itself and if man could give more time and help nature in its work of beautification, then how beautiful life could be.”
That was the last of many letters to the editor from Bauer, and it meaningfully encapsulated a lifetime of work to beautify Clark County. Bauer died last week at the age of 92, following a stroke.
During 30 years as a state legislator, Bauer earned plaudits from both sides of the aisle. He was a Democrat, but as longtime friend and community leader Ed Barnes said, “I don’t think any Republican legislator down here could ever criticize him for doing what was not in the best interest.”
Bauer’s work in Olympia often focused on education, and former Gov. Gary Locke dubbed him “the education senator.” Bauer was instrumental in the creation of Washington State University Vancouver and the state’s Running Start program, which allows high school students to begin earning college credit. Bauer Hall at Clark College is named for him — an appropriate honor given his longtime affiliation with the school.
According to an article from the Clark College Foundation, Bauer had dropped out of high school before earning an equivalency diploma. “I thought I wanted to be a farmer so I didn’t need an education,” he reportedly said. “So I did no homework (in high school) and ended my junior year with about a D average.”
He then enrolled in Clark College, later earning a bachelor’s degree at Portland State University and a master’s at Oregon State University. “That was a turning point in my whole life,” he said. “I attribute whatever I’ve done to my family and to Clark for encouraging me to keep going.” In between, Bauer spent six years in the Navy, serving in the Korean War.
Bauer spent a career paying that education forward. He was a teacher at Columbia River High School, and as a legislator he led the way in establishing 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.
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle told The Columbian: “Al valued his own education, taught for 20 years, and mentored new teachers. 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.”
After retiring from the Legislature in 2000 — he never lost an election — Bauer remained involved in shaping public policy in Clark County. He advocated for candidates he believed in, actively promoted a replacement Interstate 5 Bridge, and decried a lack of diplomacy in modern politics.
In a January letter to the editor, he wrote: “The two-strong-party system (with some exceptions) has served America well since John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. If our strong two-party system fails (we are close), we will be ruled by authoritarian despots. God Bless America!”
Throughout his career, Bauer focused on ensuring that students had an easier path than he did: “In the Legislature, I worked hard to prevent dropouts.” Washington, and especially Clark County, are better because of it.