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May 25, 2007

On Norm Maleng

Posted by David Postman at 9:48 AM

Everyone knew the same Norm Maleng. There was no public face put on for politics. No mask of nice, no off-stage temper tantrums or ego that had to be massaged or restrained for public consumption. If you read — and you should — the fine story written this morning by Jennifer Sullivan and Steve Miletich, you will find various descriptions of a serious lawyer who handled the most challenging cases with a calm compassion, a man with personal kindness that unfortunately is so rare in our time it surprised people to experience it first hand, and a public official whose mark on criminal justice will be felt for decades to come.

There's a lot of talk these days about restoring civility to politics. Maleng never lost it. He had a small-town way about him. That served him well in his years as King County prosecutor. It wasn't much of a benefit the three times Maleng ran for statewide office. On that stage, one needs a little flash, a little strut even.

When Maleng made his last statewide run — for governor in 1996 — he finished a distant third in the Republican primary. The results came in on the night of his 58th birthday. "Norm is always everybody's second choice," his campaign manager said that night. That doesn't get you elected statewide. But it's a testament to Maleng's character and humanity — people who couldn't agree on much else could agree on him.

I spent a day with Maleng at the end of that 1996 primary campaign. We were in Aberdeen. Maleng, as I recall, had driven the 2 ½ hours by himself to attend a forum by the League of Women Voters.

He arrived early to shake hands, but there were none. When it came time to take the stage last Thursday, the only other candidate was Democrat Mohammad Said, a little-known Eastern Washington physician campaigning largely on a platform of Middle East trade, tourism and peace. There were about 25 people present — including the Girl Scout troop standing by to collect audience questions, surrogates representing three other candidates and two reporters.

"I am really happy to be here," Maleng said, facing about 425 empty seats in the Grays Harbor College theater.

I believed he really was happy to be there. He was happy to see people, to make his case, to talk about growing up on a dairy farm, about what he would do as governor and had done for years as prosecutor. Norm Maleng was being Norm Maleng.

He will be missed.

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