Faulk, Larry (b. 1936)

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 8/29/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9119

Larry Faulk was a Washington State Senator from 1966 to 1970. He remained a prominent figure in public life in Tacoma and Pierce County for most of the next four decades. In subsequent runs for State Senate and Pierce County executive, he was defeated each time by Booth Gardner (1936-2013), who went on to become governor. Faulk worked as an executive with The Boeing Company for many years and he also headed a number of nonprofit and governmental agencies, including the Martin Luther King Center in Tacoma and the Washington State Pollution and Shoreline Hearings Boards. He became a trustee of Tacoma Community College and also taught there as a political science instructor. In 2008, he ran again for the State Senate seat he had held 42 years earlier, but was defeated by the Democratic incumbent.

Idyllic Tacoma

Larry Faulk was born Lawrence J. Faulk on June 20, 1936, in Tacoma, to Theodore and Katherine Faulk. His father, a former University of Washington football star, for many years owned a collection agency called Bonded Adjustment Corp., in Tacoma.

Larry Faulk attended St. Patrick's Grade School and Bellarmine High School in Tacoma. He remembered his childhood in Tacoma as an idyllic time.

"I remember playing in the waters of Puget Sound for three or four hours a day," he said in a 2009 interview. "I think that water's so cold now, but apparently it didn't bother me then" (Kershner interview).

Upon graduation in 1954, Faulk immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army. He had his basic training at Fort Ord and eventually was sent to Sandia Base, New Mexico, where he worked in the office that issued security badges. He said that one of his main motivations in joining the army right out of high school was so that he could attend college on the G.I. Bill.

When he was discharged in 1957, he went back to Tacoma and was accepted into Seattle University, where he enrolled with a political science major and a South American history minor. It was at Seattle University that he became thoroughly fascinated by politics. He became involved in the campus Young Republicans and eventually became the club's president.

Under the Spell of JFK

Yet it was a Democratic politician, John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), who ignited Faulk's passion for politics.

The president of Seattle University's Young Democrats club, a friend of Faulk's, called him up asked if he wanted to meet Kennedy during a 1960 Kennedy campaign visit to Seattle.

"I said, 'Hell, yes, I want to meet Jack Kennedy,'" said Faulk (Kershner interview).

Even though Faulk was, and remained, a lifelong Republican, he said he had great admiration for Kennedy's ability to speak and motivate people. So Faulk and his friend went down to the Olympic Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle where Kennedy's motorcade was gathering. Someone asked Faulk if he wanted to drive Jack Kennedy around and the 24-year-old Faulk said. "That'll be cool," and got in the lead car.

He wasn't in the car long before a big beefy man walked up and said, "Get out of the car, kid. You ain't driving" (Kershner interview). It was Kennedy's Secret Service agent.

So Faulk had to scramble around and find a place in another car, a convertible that was being used as one of the press cars. The motorcade proceeded down 5th Avenue to a rally at the Coliseum, where Faulk walked in right behind Kennedy and got a seat in the front.

"All the Young Democrats were way in the back, and they were saying, 'Hey, wait a minute. How does Faulk get way down there? He's a Young Republican!'" (Kershner interview).

The next day, Faulk and some of his buddies were asked to drive the campaign's luggage to the next campaign stop in Portland. They were down at the King County Airport, loading the luggage, when Faulk saw Kennedy standing on the airport steps. He went up and introduced himself and told him he was a student. Kennedy asked what he was studying.

"I said, 'Political science,' and he said, 'Well, maybe you can do this someday. But not until I'm finished.'"

Ironically, Faulk had just finished running a mock political convention at Seattle University, where he had been in charge of Richard Nixon's campaign. Faulk won the nomination for Nixon, at a Catholic university, no less. Nevertheless, Faulk was definitely under the spell of Kennedy.

"I just thought he was a very glamorous guy," said Fauk. "I thought he was much more appealing than Nixon."

This Kennedy encounter was the catalyst for what became a lifelong love of politics and campaigning.

"When I was riding down 5th Avenue in an open car with thousands of people there, I thought, 'My God, that's the coolest thing ever,'" said Faulk (Kershner interview). That's when he decided he wanted to be a politician someday.

Pierce County Campaigns

After graduation in 1961, he went to work as a program planner for The Boeing Company's facilities branch. Yet he remained fascinated with politics and became Ben Larson's campaign manager in the 1962 U.S. Senate race. Larson lost in the Republican primary.

Then in 1963, Faulk met the man who would become one of his key political influences: Daniel J. "Dan" Evans (b. 1925), who was one of the Republican leaders of the Washington State House at the time.

"I said, 'I'm going to work for this guy,'" said Faulk (Kershner interview).

Faulk became a charter member of the "Draft Dan Evans" (for governor) movement and then became the No. 2 person in Evans's campaign in Pierce County. Faulk took a two-month leave from Boeing to devote himself to Evans's campaign full-time. Evans carried Pierce County in the general election -- unusual in this Democratic leaning county -- and won the governorship.

Faulk also met his future wife, Mary, while working on the Evans campaign. They married in 1965.

Running for Office

In 1966, Faulk decided to take on a daunting task: running for the State Senate seat in the 26th Legislative District in Tacoma. Faulk was only 30 years old.

He was acquainted with the Democratic incumbent, the well-respected Jack Petrich, who had held the seat for eight years. In fact, earlier that year he had been invited by a mutual friend to a gathering at Petrich's summer home.

"Jack was there with a big cigar and Chivas on the rocks, looking out over the water, and he said, 'Son, you should get into politics.' And I said, 'I will, Senator. I love politics.' And then I beat him!" said Faulk in a later interview (Kershner interview).

Faulk went in with an energetic campaign organized with help from the Pierce County Young Republicans. He billed himself as a moderate Republican, who was neither conservative nor liberal, but who believed in practical and progressive solutions to his city's and state's problems. His campaign emphasized renewing the "commercial, cultural and recreational life of our cities," encouraging business growth, and being "diligently responsive to the people" ("Senatorial Campaign).

He struck a chord with voters and defeated Petrich by 515 votes, becoming the youngest member of the Washington State Senate.

Senator Faulk

During his four-year term he became a strong backer of a bill to form a statewide community college system, which passed in 1967.

In 1969, he also played a key role in the creation of the State Appeals Court -- and in making sure that Tacoma and Spokane would house divisions of that Appeals Court. The original bill housed the Appeals Court only in Seattle. Faulk and his fellow legislators from Tacoma and Spokane said they wouldn't vote for it if the court was based solely in Seattle -- a place that, in Faulk's view, was always trying to squeeze out the state's other cities.

"We said [to the chairman of the judiciary committee], 'It's either that, or you won't get your system," said Faulk. "And, of course, he yielded. And that's the way it is today" (Kershner interview).

Booth Gardner Runs for Office

When he ran for re-election in 1970, he cited a number of accomplishments in his four-year term -- but then he ran head-on into another young and up-and-coming Tacoma politician, Booth Gardner. Gardner was the associate director of the University of Puget Sound's School of Business. He was also an heir to the Weyerhaeuser timber fortune.

Gardner beat him, putting an end to Faulk's legislative career. Faulk went back to work at Boeing, but continued to be involved in public affairs. In 1979, Faulk was elected as a Pierce County freeholder, one of 23 citizens charged with drafting a new Pierce County charter. The new charter was approved by voters in November 1980 and Faulk immediately filed to run for Pierce County executive, the county's top job.

Then, Booth Gardner filed against him.

"It was happening all over again!" said Faulk (Kershner interview).

Gardner won in a close race.

Civic Service

After that, Faulk took on a series of jobs, including a six-year stint from 1982 to 1988 as member and chair of the Washington State Pollution Control and Shoreline Hearings Board.

He ran again in 1988 for Pierce County executive, yet lost again. From 1989 to 1990, Faulk became the deputy director of the Martin Luther King Center in Tacoma, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing housing and services to the homeless.

"You're dealing with the most difficult problems with the least resources," said Faulk. "You do that every day, it's burnout city" (Kershner interview).

He returned to The Boeing Co. in 1990 and worked as an environmental administrator until he retired in 1995. Since then, he has worked as volunteer lobbyist for several nonprofit groups, including the Museum of Flight. He has also served as a trustee and taught political science as an instructor at Tacoma Community College -- part of a college system he helped to vote into existence.

You Can't Win!

In 2008, he filed for his old State Senate seat (now the 27th District), a move which raised eyebrows in the Tacoma political scene. He was 72 years old.

"When I ran the first time, they said, 'He's too young.' When I ran this time, they say, 'He's too old.' What's a guy to do?" Faulk told a Tacoma reporter (Turner).

Incumbent Democratic state Senator Debbie Regala soundly defeated him, 68 to 32 percent.

Yet in 2009, at age 73, Faulk did not sound like he was finished with politics yet.

"I love politics," he said. "I'd like to run for something again. I'd like to run for U.S. Senate if I could get the backing" (Kershner interview). 


Jim Kershner interview by phone with Larry Faulk, Tacoma, August 5, 2009; Joe Turner, "Larry Faulk: First he was too young, now he's too old,"  The News Tribune (Political Buzz blog), August 21, 2008 (http://blogs.thenewstribune.com/politics/2008/08/21/larry_faulk); Larry Faulk, "Background of Larry Faulk," December 2006, manuscript in possession of Larry Faulk, Tacoma; "Senatorial Campaign, 26th District, 1966" and "1970 Re-election Brochure," Senator Lawrence J. Faulk legislative papers, Washington State Division of Archives and Record Management; United Press International, "County Selects Leaders," Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 11, 1981, p. C-1: "Spokane, Tacoma Offices Added," Spokesman-Review, April 25, 1969 p. 12; "Senate Journal of the 40th Legislature of the State of Washington," 1967, p. 8.

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