WA’s Youngest State Senator

Hi everyone — greetings from the History Dept.

Annnnd…. it’s open, wHoOp! Of course we’re talking about the Elks Temple! — congratulations to the hundreds of people who put so much effort into making this magical, over-the-top spot a reality.

Here’s another story that we unearthed in Tacoma, this one about Senator Larry Faulk, a former Elk who at just 30 years old was the youngest person elected to the Washington State Senate (shown below with his artwork by McMenamins artist Senada Miljevik).

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“Whose son are you?”

“Had to give up your paper route to come to Olympia, huh?”

“Still wet behind the ears.”

These were just a few of the comments, most in good fun, that Senator Larry Faulk heard in 1966 from fellow Washington state politicians upon his swearing in. At 30 years old, he was the youngest person ever elected Washington state senator.

Faulk’s win, as he remembers it, was “an anomaly and an amazing feat.” He beat Democratic incumbent (and fellow Tacoma Elk) Jack Petrich by 515 votes. As a moderate Republican, Faulk promised to renew “the commercial, cultural and recreational life of our cities.” He was also a champion of minorities and those less fortunate – disabled veterans, the homeless, women, people of color. “John F. Kennedy set the stage for me,” he recalled in 2019. “He was respectful and conversational. He saw his role as one to educate and inform. That’s what I tried to do.”

Faulk has long been inspired by Kennedy, beginning in 1960 when he was a poli-sci major at Seattle University. When JFK came to speak in Seattle, Larry got an opportunity to attend. The young Republican talked his way into the presidential motorcade and then was able to snag a front-row seat at the event! His Democratic classmates were irritated. “They said, ‘What the hell is Faulk doing up there?’” he remembers with a big laugh.

The following day, he and his buddies were asked to drive the presidential luggage to Portland, while JFK flew on ahead. Loading up the bags at the airport, Faulk saw the president waiting on the tarmac and introduced himself as a political science student. Kennedy, ever ready with a quip, replied, “Well , maybe you can do this someday. But not until I’m finished.”

Hours later, following a quick detour to his parents’ house to show off JFK’s luggage, he arrived in Portland where he was met by Bobby Kennedy. As a thank you, RFK gave Faulk a tie clip emblazoned with PT-109, the Naval boat upon which Jack Kennedy was nearly killed during WWII.

After college, Faulk joined the Tacoma Elks. “It’s just what you did. It was a source of pride, a rite of passage.” He cites the leadership of Tacoma’s Exalted Ruler Emmett Anderson as an influence; Anderson went on to become the Elks’ national leader. Along with its tremendous networking opportunities, the Elks lodge had the best amenities around. “You could get a nice lunch, there was a good bar. You could have a swim – naked, of course, it was just men back then – while your shoes were shined and your clothes steamed!”

Faulk began working for Boeing, while at the same time campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Evans. After winning the governorship, Evans remained Faulk’s lifelong friend and mentor. It was while working on the campaign that Larry met his future wife (and lifelong Democrat) Mary; the couple married in 1965 and soon after started a family.

All the while, the Elks club, both at the old downtown location and then later at the new, modern building in the suburbs, remained a part of Faulk’s life. “I’d take my sons with me, we’d take a swim, have lunch. There’d be guys making deals, playing cards. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon together.”

In 1966, having won the State Senate seat, Faulk applied himself to his campaign promises. He backed a bill to form a statewide community college system, which passed in 1967. He also helped create a State Appeals Court, and “made damn sure” that Tacoma and Spokane (and not just Seattle, as originally planned) housed divisions of that court.

Faulk went up for re-election in 1970 but was defeated by another young Tacoman, future heir to the Weyerhaeuser timber fortune Booth Gardner, who outspent Faulk by a massive margin. Faulk returned to Boeing but remained active in civil service – for example, in 1979, he was one of 23 people tasked with crafting a new Pierce County charter. Upon its approval, Faulk ran for Pierce County executive – yet was defeated in a close race by none other than Booth Gardner. It was no doubt a tough pill to swallow.

Perhaps one of Faulk’s finest successes was in the late 1980s, with Tacoma’s Martin Luther King Center, a nonprofit that provides housing and services to the homeless. “It was the first time someone had come to them and said, ‘How can I help you?’” As its deputy director, Faulk prepared an in-depth financial report to stimulate funding for the center’s dilapidated Last Chance Shelter, an emergency home for homeless men. Amazingly, he raised $100,000 in a very short time. The News-Tribune wrote: “[Faulk] steered this impossible dream through to triumphant fruition in a bare 90 days.… He has, at Last Chance, made an indelible mark amidst a vital problem area for Tacoma. The homeless thank him, profusely, and the rest of us ought to tip our caps, too.”

At the age of 83, Senator Faulk still volunteers his time, gets his exercise at the YMCA and was recently involved in potential reuses for the historic City Hall building. With his partner Judy, he enjoys the company of his two sons, his daughter and their families. But don’t assume that this dedicated civil servant is slowing down – as of 2019, Sen. Faulk’s current project is to see the first female Republican elected governor of Washington.

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