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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Former state, Vancouver political leader Jim Moeller dies

Death follows yearslong battle with Parkinson’s disease

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 9, 2023, 10:30am
6 Photos
House Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Moeller looks out over the House Chamber moments before the start of a 30-day special session of the Legislature Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in Olympia. Moeller died Wednesday following a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Moeller looks out over the House Chamber moments before the start of a 30-day special session of the Legislature Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in Olympia. Moeller died Wednesday following a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 67.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Photo Gallery

Former Washington legislator and Vancouver city councilor Jim Moeller died Wednesday following a yearslong battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 67.

State Rep. Sharon Wylie announced Moeller’s passing from the House floor Wednesday afternoon.

“He was fearless,” Wylie said in an interview later in the day.

Wylie said Moeller had most recently been working to get an assault weapons ban passed, adding the House passed a bill banning the weapons only hours after his death.

“He would defend other people to the death. He was a fierce advocate,” Wylie added. “And he had an incredible sense of humor.”

Wylie said Moeller used that humor to rein in lawmakers from the dais whenever discussions got too raucous.

“He would make some very understated, well-timed comment and everybody would just laugh. He would break the tension,” she said.

James Carl Moeller was born in Vancouver on July 2, 1955. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington State University, he did his graduate studies in social work at Portland State University.

He was elected to the Vancouver City Council in 1995 and served there until he was elected as the 49th District state representative in 2002. Moeller served in the Legislature from 2003 to 2017. He was named speaker pro tempore of the Washington House of Representatives in 2011.

In addition to his time in office, Moeller worked as an addiction councilor at Kaiser Permanente for 27 years.

Perhaps best known by some for his love of colorful bow ties, Moeller was one of the state’s first openly gay lawmakers and was a trailblazer for the gay community in Vancouver and the state.

After Moeller was elected to the Legislature, former Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt was appointed to his seat on the city council. Although the two weren’t on the council at the same time, Leavitt said they worked together at times.

“We had many,  many interactions over the years, both while I was a council member and as mayor,” Leavitt said. “Our interactions were always enjoyable and sometimes spirited.”

Leavitt said while Moeller was a passionate advocate for certain issues, he was never dogmatic or close-minded.

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“He was always a consummate gentleman. He was always open to discussion and listening, understanding perspectives that we had,” Leavitt said. “I never once questioned his motivation or integrity, for that matter.”

Former Vancouver City Council candidate Mike Pond shared his thoughts on Moeller’s passing on Facebook.

“Legislator, ally, boss, mentor, confidant, friend. An elder statesman, a real class act. I always say ‘Jim paved the road, I now get to skip down!’ ” I’m forever in your fan club. Thank you, for all you did for so many,” Pond wrote.

During his time in the Legislature, Moeller served on numerous committees, including the joint Senate and House task forces on child support and public health financing. He was the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs and a member of the governor’s work group on licensing of mental health and abuse counselors.

Moeller was also actively involved in community organizations. He was a founding member of Clark County Pride and Hands Off Washington. Moeller served on the YWCA Diversity Task Force, Clark County’s methamphetamine task force, Washington End of Life coalition and was chair of the Southwest Washington Health District Board of Directors, among many others.

As word of Moeller’s passing spread, lawmakers and others who knew Moeller turned to social media to express their sympathies, including state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

“While Jim and I have equal and opposite political DNA, he always treated me with respect and dignity. I, in return, treated him the same,” Rivers said in a Facebook post. “More importantly, the way he treated my son, Derick, while he was a page in Olympia and my husband Fred trying to navigate his way in Olympia was always with Love!!! A lovely human being and a dear friend.”

In another Facebook post, former Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said, “We lost one of the OGs in Washington LGBTQ politics and a terrific guy. Godspeed Jim Moeller — rainbow bow ties in heaven tonight.”

In a post on its Facebook page, the Clark County Democrats said, “Jim was a fine example of service to one’s community. His kind heart and dedication will be a lesson that those who seek elected office would be wise to follow.”

Moeller and other former lawmakers who passed away during the past year will be honored by the Legislature during a special memorial session on March 15.