Albert Dean Rosellini served two terms as governer of the state of Washington, from 1957 to 1964. In an era now commonly thought of as conservative and complacent, he was an activist leader whose main causes are mirrored in contemporary politics. In this portrait of Albert D. Rosellini's early life and active career in politics, Payton Smit depicts an energetic, pragmatic statesman in a region just moving into political and economic maturity.
More than any other person, Rosellini was responsible for the long overdue restructuring of the state's prison and mental health systems, introducing both fiscal and human accountability. His interest in transportation led to the Evergreen Point, Hood Canal, Astoria-Megler, and Goldendale bridges as well as an expanded highway system. His reforms in state budgeting brought the state's financial decisions into the daylight, making detailed scrutiny and accountability possible for the first time, while his work on commerce and trade helped bring the state into its modern position as a player in the Pacific Rim economies. He was a legislative father of the University of Washington's medical/dental schools, and his support of higher education enriched the state's universities and colleges and created a sound, comprehensive junior college system.
Rosellini was the first Italian-American and the first Catholic governor west of the Mississippi. The only son of immigrant parents, he worked to support his family while finishing high school in three years and then passed the bar exam at age twenty-three. Six years later he was elected to the Washington State Senate as its youngest member. One of the New Deal Democratic majority, he quickly gained an insight into the legislative process that served him throughout his career.
A warm, caring man with a genuine empathy for people, Rosellini played out his political career against the evolving attitudes toward ethnicity and class in Washington State and the nation. As a shrewd politician, he was quick to utilize the power of the media to shape issues and campaigns. Always controversial, he was suspected of corruption and illegal ties to liquor and gambling, simply on the basis of his Italian background. Yet in many areas he left a legacy that has allowed the state to prosper and flourish. The story of Rosellini's strengths and weaknesses, and how they contributed to his success as a governor and detracted form his ability to exercise political leadership, is a unique part of Washington's history.