News

Maryann Mitchell was Federal Way's 'mother'

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

South King County lawmakers will convene in Olympia Jan. 13 for the opening of the 2003 Legislature in the absence of a longtime representative who, to many, became a close friend and cherished colleague.

Maryann Mitchell, a Republican from Federal Way who served almost a decade in the state House of Representatives, died of cancer Dec. 28. She was 69.

She stayed at home through most of the final days of her lengthy illness. She died less than 24 hours after being moved to an undisclosed hospice care center, a close friend of the family said. Mitchell’s husband, Sam, and her family were with her.

Mitchell’s family will hold a private funeral service this weekend. Flags in Federal Way will fly at half-mast until Monday.

A public memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 11 at Steel Lake Presbyterian Church in Federal Way.

Legislators are expected to remember Mitchell in Olympia when they convene later this month.

Rep. Mark Miloscia, a Democrat from Federal Way and the same 30th District Mitchell represented, said he was delighted to have worked with her.

On a few occasions, Miloscia asked her if he could sponsor some of her old bills. He said she was always enthusiastic about the idea, even though they were from different parties.

“I remember her helping me work through the political process,” he said. “There was no partisanship, no nothing but ‘Here, Mark, this will help you.’

“She was out there, very much involved in transportation issues. Now, eight months later, she’s not here. My heart goes out to Sam and the rest of her family.”

The Mitchells moved to Federal Way in 1979. They raised five children and have six grandchildren.

When she wasn’t in Olympia, Mitchell worked as an advocate for the developmentally disabled and elderly.

She was elected to the House for the 30th District, which comprises Federal Way, Northeast Tacoma, Fife, Milton, Algona and some unincorporated areas east of Federal Way, in 1991 and served until 1992. She was elected again in 1995 and served through the end of the 2002 session.

During her time in the Legislature, she served on the Legislative Transportation Committee, the Legislative Transportation Executive Committee, and she was the ranking minority member on the House Transportation Committee.

When the House was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans in 2001, Mitchell served as co-chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.

Mitchell also played a major role in Federal Way’s formation as a city, for which she earned the nickname of “Mother of Federal Way.”

She was the chairwoman of the Federal Way First! incorporation steering committee. Now-Mayor Jeanne Burbidge, who also served on the committee, said Mitchell opened her home in Marine Hills every Friday at 7 a.m. for the committee’s weekly meetings.

When the Mitchells were moving, Burbidge said the committee met in the recreation room at the Fox Run Apartments, where they were staying temporarily.

“She always had coffee on for us,” Burbidge said.

She said Mitchell left behind “an important legacy” because of her role supporting city issues and her belief in “the importance of involving local governments in transportation planning.”

Mitchell was a moderate Republican who favored President Bush’s faith-based initiatives, tax-cutting packages and a smaller, less bureaucratic form of government. She made statements expressing a desire to cut taxes that fund government to allow people to use their money however they wanted.

She voted to provide emergency funding for 30th District homeowners whose houses were damaged in the Ash Wednesday earthquake in 2001. The bill also made available some energy assistance for low-income families struggling with the high energy bills from the energy crisis attributed at the time to California.

But transportation was Mitchell’s main focus in Olympia.

Mitchell and her fellow transportation committee members always grappled with fixing transportation problems statewide without burdening Washington residents with tax increases.

In 2001, the state Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation identified $9 billion in critical transportation improvements needed from Spokane to Seattle. That year, Mitchell and fellow House Republicans suggested a transportation package that would streamline permitting for road construction projects, would allow the state to contract out for services like highway maintenance and would reform wage laws.

Lawmakers passed a $3.4 billion transportation budget that year that allocated millions of dollars to the Department of Transportation, the Transportation Improvement Board, the State Patrol, the state Department of Licensing and the County Road Administration Board.

During the 2002 session, Mitchell helped preserve the $30 license tab fee initiative with a bill sponsored by Sen. Tracey Eide, a Republican from Federal Way.

“When they said $30 license fee, they didn’t mean ‘except for what we were paying for transit,’” Mitchell said last March. “We’re just finishing up what we thought we had done. It’s getting that last piece done.”

Shortly after the Legislature passed its $7.7 billion transportation budget in June 2002, Mitchell announced she would be bidding farewell to Olympia to pursue other interests –– quilting and traveling with Sam among them.

Burbidge said Sam was looking forward to Mitchell’s retirement “so they could spend some time together. For her to get sick so soon upon her retirement was just really hard.”

Rep. Skip Priest, a Federal Way Republican who ran for and won Mitchell’s seat in the November election, said the 30th District “lost a dedicated and distinguished public servant. We all benefitted from her wisdom.”

Priest met Mitchell during the city incorporation effort in 1989.They came into contact many times later when he served as mayor of Federal Way and she was a state representative.

Priest said Mitchell told him last January she wouldn't seek re-election. He learned of her illness in June.

At the state capitol last week, fellow legislators and others who knew her were “very sad,” Priest said. “Maryann was very well-respected for her commitment to the institution of the Legislature.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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