Gov. Jay Inslee orders Cal Anderson tree memorial restored

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Gov. Jay Inslee wants the memorial to trailblazing lawmaker Cal Anderson restored on the Capitol Campus this week.

The governor Wednesday ordered the Department of Enterprise Services to “immediately replant a tree along Cherry Lane and ensure the continued care of the memorial site,” Jaime Smith, Inslee’s executive director of communications, wrote in an email. 

Earlier this month, Enterprise Services, which manages the Capitol Campus, removed several dying Kwanzan cherry trees on the stretch of road that runs alongside the Capitol, including the one planted to honor Anderson. 

Enterprise Services plans to plant a 16-foot Kwanzan flowering cherry tree and reinstall the memorial plaque Friday.

Anderson, Washington’s first openly gay lawmaker and a champion for gay rights, was in the Legislature from 1987 until his death in 1995. Inslee worked with Anderson in the state House and the two were friends.

Agency officials failed to tell lawmakers and others who knew or worked with Anderson before they felled the tree. The sight of a stump next to the plaque stunned and angered legislative leaders.

The replacement cherry tree won’t be there for long because the street’s landscaping will be removed when the road is torn up in about four years.

Enterprise Services officials will work to find a new location for a replacement memorial tree and updated plaque. They will consult with the Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee, State Capitol Committee, elected officials with whom Anderson worked, the Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus and the Washington State LGTBQ Commission.

Lt. Gov. Denny Heck on Tuesday called the memorial site removal “a desecration.” On Wednesday, he said, “it’s the right path forward. I’m glad they’re doing it.”

A July 26 press release outlined the agency’s plan to remove several Kwanzan flowering cherry trees on the block of Cherry Lane that runs alongside the Legislative Building. The targeted trees, which date to the 1990s, were dying and needed to be taken out for safety reasons, it said.

No mention was made that the Anderson tree was among those to be axed. 

An agency spokesperson Tuesday acknowledged the “oversight” of not contacting legislators and those who knew and worked with Anderson.

Enterprise Services “should have done a better job of communicating the purpose of the tree removal and acted more quickly to ensure the replacement tree was identified,” said Jennifer Reynolds, an agency spokesperson. “We have deep respect for his leadership and bravery, and extend our sincere apologies to his supporters and family.”

Anderson was appointed to a vacant House seat in 1987 and won three elections before running and winning a Senate seat in 1994. In February 1995, Anderson announced he was being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a complication of AIDS, according to a HistoryLink biography.

Anderson, a Vietnam vet and progressive Democrat, established himself as a champion for gay rights, introducing bills every year to extend the state’s civil rights protections to cover gays and lesbians. It wasn’t until 2006 that lawmakers passed a law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodation, credit and insurance.

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