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A water taxi named 'Dixy'?

In the naming contest for the county's new water taxis, a proposal in honor of the state's first female governor deserves a second look.
Dixy Lee Ray

Dixy Lee Ray Harold "Scotty" Shapiro/Washington State Archives

I was thrilled to see that my suggestion to name the new Vashon-Seattle water taxi after the late, great writer and onetime Vashon commuter Betty MacDonald (author of "The Egg and I," and the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories, among others) made the list of finalists. Please vote for Betty!

The King County District ferry folks are naming two boats — the other runs the West Seattle-Downtown route —  and the finalists include names that could prove popular, among them: "Doc Maynard" after one of Seattle's most colorful founders; "Princess Angeline," after Chief Seattle's eldest daughter who lived to a venerable age in a shack below what is now the Pike Place Market and was famously photographed by Edward S. Curtis; and the "Cobain Watertrain," the kind of name likely to excite the elders among The Stranger's audience.

Another name on the list is well worth considering: the "Dixy Lee Ray."

Former Governor Dixy Lee Ray is out of step, favor and fashion with our green times. She famously warred with what she described as "radical" environmentalists because, she concluded, they "hate people." She favored an oil super-port on Puget Sound and her support of nuclear power garnered her the title "Madame Nuke." She was elected as a Democrat in 1976 but was more popular with conservatives. She claimed to be a fiscal conservative herself, but not a "sociological" one. In some ways, she was the Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom of her times. And she grew unpopular quickly. By 1977, one Seattle couple had set up a cottage business selling Dixy dartboards. Dixy named a litter of pigs after members of the Olympia press corps.

But let's look at what is in her favor. First, Dixy was only the second elected female U.S. governor on her own (meaning one who did not follow her husband in office). She was the first woman to serve as governor of Washington. She was one of a kind, a product of Washington who rose in academia as a marine biologist and University of Washington professor. Dixy broke glass ceilings, she was tough and independent-minded. She was a scientist and academic, not a politician. She was also an island dweller (Fox Island).

She headed the Pacific Science Center and, through grit and personal will, saw it through its transition from a former world's fair pavilion to a permanent institution devoted to scientific education and engagement with the public, a significant legacy in these science-challenged times. In the 1960s, Dixy and the Science Center were inseparable in the public mind. She spoke out and lobbied against the trade in Puget Sound's orcas by guys like Ted Griffin, captor of Namu the killer whale, and denounced the marketing in marine mammals. Dixy was a great character too — few people knew it, but she had a great laugh and smile, drove a red convertible sports car filled with dogs and was notable for her butch style: short hair, tweed skirts and open-necked shirts with pointy collars. She was unafraid to be herself, like her or no.

Dixy served on the Atomic Energy Commission (appointed by President Richard Nixon) and later became its chairman. She also served as an assistant secretary of state advising on oceans, environmental, and science policy under President Gerald Ford. When she returned to Washington to run for governor, she was seen as carrying the banner of independence, feminism and a non-politician's cred, which appealed post-Watergate. Many progressives were torn in that election that pitted Ray against a moderate King County Republican, John Spellman (who became governor four years later).

Since Dixy's political temperament and views were relatively little-known, she seemed to some like a breath of fresh air who could bring a fresh perspective to Olympia politics. Indeed, she was not a little like former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in that way: someone who spoke her mind and wouldn't back down. "I tend not to be swayed by what might be the political thing to do or the popular things to do," she said. She was elected in part because she was an outsider who eschewed politics. Not always the precursor of a smooth ride, to say the least.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

"Dixy Lee Ray deserves some kind of recognition for her achievements. If Bertha Knight Landes gets a tunnel-boring machine, at the very least a marine biologist with Dr. Ray’s career accomplishments should rate a scrappy little vessel that can bull its way against storms and tides."

Given the performance of the namesake machine for Bertha,why would anyone want to ride the "Dixy"? Unless you like floudering and sinking to the bottom of the sound.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Though the Dixy Taxi has a certain alliterative appeal, I would have to agree with you that Tugboat Dixy offers a more appropriate image. Obviously, a nuclear sub at Bangor would also have to be considered, but as federal issue deciding such a controversial matter might get stuck in Congress forever unless it were tied to a popular cause like more guns for Israel. Personally, I have always wanted Seattle to name something after John Ehrlichman, who before he became Nixon's handyman was a seminal figure in the development of Washington environmental law. Or how about naming a dinghy for Timmy Eyman? Is there still time to get an initiative on the ballot for that?

woofer

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Knute- A water taxi, named for Her Royal gouver-ness?

Have you forgotten Cecil and Dipstick the Duck?

I once spent three hours interviewing Dr. Ray at her home on FOX ISLAND after she'ed left office.

She was a true believer- and cracked from side to side.

Ross Kane, Warm Beach

Ross

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 12:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Surely Mr. Berger jests. As an alumnus of Gov. Ray's enemies list – 'twas I who scooped the world on her practice of using tax dollars to provide chauffeur-driven limousines for her department heads – I have to question the appropriateness of naming an environment-protecting water-taxi after a notoriously anti-environmental politician.

Dixy's automotive ostentation, which defiantly reversed the sensible state energy-conservation policies instituted by Gov. Dan Evans following Big Oil's 1973 price-coup, gave us not only the Ayn-Randish arrogance of the Welfare Limo but the fuelish absurdity of the Ecology Limo as well.

Both these gas-guzzlers had liveried drivers, complete with visored caps.

My story, "Dixy's Honchos Get Bigger, Greedier Cars," broke on Page One, 1 May 1977 in the old Sunday-Wednesday-Friday Federal Way News. It went statewide and national via United Press International, for which I was a longtime stringer, and it made the front section of The New York Times.

The accompanying art, which I got by sneaking into the state garage, ran only in FWN. It was a photo of the Welfare Limo, the Department of Social and Health Services logo like a royal coat-of-arms on its doors, the vehicle's length and pretentiousness deliberately emphasized by the 24mm Nikkor on my Nikon F.

By the way, Mr. Berger errs in referring to Gov. Ray as “Madam Nuke.” Amongst her opponents throughout Washington state, her colloquial moniker was “Madam Atom,” memorable both for its easy alliteration and its portent of glow-in-the-dark disaster. “Madam Nuke” was used only by journalists, self included, who were jealous someone else had come up with the title “Madam Atom.”

More to the water-taxi point, if Sen. Warren Magnuson had not employed political sleight-of-hand to keep Dixy from turning Puget Sound into an international petroleum port, our homeland sea might now be too befouled for any vessels save supertankers.

Hence if we must name a taxi to immortalize someone notorious, even D.B. Cooper – who robbed a public conveyance but did no damage to the environment – would seem to be a better choice.

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Dixy Lee Ray surrounded herself with cronies who victimized state government throughout her four year reign of terror. She and her band of paranoid pols drove many of us from government for her team's relentless pursuit of unbridled loyalty and when that was questioned she and her goofy crew sat on much needed disaster declarations and other such political reprisals. Difficult for many of us to even utter her goofy name, let alone see it painted on a car ferry -- oil tanker, nuclear power plant perhaps.

bayshore

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 1:22 p.m. Inappropriate

You know Dixy Lee Ray is not her real name.

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 3:39 p.m. Inappropriate

As a Peninsula resident I knew Governor Ray casually. I occasionally ran into her in Uddenberg's Thriftway, Stroh's Feed and Garden, and other local places. She was a wonderfully friendly and happy person, but it's not surprising that many on the left demonized her, because for many on the left politics trumps all. They fear that which they cannot categorize, and her political philosophy defied easy categorization.


My favorite Dixy story was in the aftermath of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, when Jimmy Carter made a big show of coming to Washington with a gaggle of "experts" in tow, whose learned advice would help the hapless Northwest bumpkins weather the catastrophe. Her response: We have experts - If you really want to be of help, just send us the money.


Hell yes, name the boat after her!

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 4:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Nor is it surprising when somebody on the far right implicitly denounces two notably competent Republican governors, John Spellman and Dan Evans, by damning them as part of "many on the left."

The most significant element of Gov. Ray's administration was its uplifted-finger celebration of how -- by running as a Democrat but governing as a John Bircher -- she had duped a nominally Democratic electorate into voting for a female Barry Goldwater.

Indeed hers was a false-flag campaign as brazen as the president's shape-shift from Obama the Orator to Barack the Betrayer -- for which (given Watergate Felon John Ehrlichman's testimony about Washington state as a favorite proving-ground for techniques of oppression), it may well have been an early test-run.

Note too the parallel use of disguise: Dixy was presented to the public as a feminist Democrat, Obama was presented as an African-American Democrat, each in truth so far right the epithet "fascist" is almost an understatement.

I remember how some of my press-corps colleagues -- and some Democratic Party insiders too -- joked Dixy was "Nixon's Revenge." Looking back, I cannot but suspect they were right.

Posted Wed, Aug 6, 6:07 p.m. Inappropriate

"Nor is it surprising when somebody on the far right implicitly denounces two notably competent Republican governors, John Spellman and Dan Evans, by damning them as part of 'many on the left.'"


Would this mysterious "somebody on the far right" by any chance be me? If you think I'm on the far right, you must not have read much of what I've written here over the years. But it's pretty common for folks on the far left to categorize everyone they disagree with as being on the far right, so maybe it is me. So if you're of a mind to reveal the true identity of the mysterious far-right person you refer to in your opening paragraph, please clear up that paragraph's other mystery, viz. - how did I (or whatever person you're referring to) demonize John Spellman and Dan Evans? I mentioned them not at all.

dbreneman

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 9:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Apparently dbreneman neither remembers the Madam-Atom era all that well nor understands the meaning of "implicitly."

To write "many on the left demonized her" implies she was demonized only by leftists, which is a false statement. In truth, Gov. Ray was despised across at least half the political spectrum -- from the center leftward (for which see http://www.northcascades.org/public_html/1977%20Fall%20KK.pdf). Amongst her harshest critics were the Republicans Dan Evans and John Spellman; the former was Dixy's three-term gubernatorial predecessor, the later her successor. Hence the "many on the left" falsehood implicitly includes Messrs. Evans and Spellman.

As to my "somebody on the far right," that was reductio-ad-absurdem parody. Nevertheless, if the shoe fits...

Posted Fri, Aug 8, 12:35 p.m. Inappropriate

That is the most tortured bending of the plain meaning of English syntax since Bill Clinton's dissertation on what "the meaning of 'is' is". Why don't you just admit that you were so itching for a fight that you made a lot of false assumptions that led you to a silly conclusion?

dbreneman

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