Nearing the ’90s: UW lobbies to gain ground in Olympia

Bob Edie, the UW’s man in Olympia, likens his job to that of a catcher on a baseball team. “The catcher makes the calls on the field,” he says. “He watches the game, signals the pitcher, and encourages the other players.”

Edie is the man who represents the uni­versity at the state capitol and who works with the legislature on a day-to-day basis. He is the head of the governmental relations office. He is the university’s lobbyist.

The state legislature governs much of what the university does. It allocates one third of its $1.2 billion biennial budget (the other two thirds come from tuition, federal programs and private gifts), and it makes laws governing everything from the faculty benefit package to the steam pressure in the school’s boilers.

For Edie, this job is long hours, frustration, pressure and fun.

“It’s a great job,” he says. “I like the work and I like working for the university. This is one of the few jobs I would have left the legislature for.”

Two years ago, Edie ended 11 years with the legislature, most recently as senior staff coordinator for the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Now as the UW lobbyist, he and his two-person staff keep track of the bills that are introduced, coordinate testimony before committees, talk to individual lawmakers and most important of all, shepherd the school’s budget request through the legislative process.

The 1989 session is very important to the university, but Edie shied away from labeling it a “must win” game.

“This year the legislature has to make two fundamental decisions concerning the quality of education and who will have access to that education,” he said. “The decisions that are made will affect the course of the university in the foreseeable future.”

To maintain the quality of education and to keep the university competitive with other top schools in the country, the administration is asking the legislature to implement the findings of the Science and Engineering Facilities Planning Study. Commissioned by the legislature itself, the study found that two thirds of the UW science and engineering facilities are outdated and need renovation or replacement. The university wants the legislature to commit to a 15-year upgrade program estimated at $2 billion.

The university also is asking that faculty salaries be maintained at a competitive level to attract quality new faculty to replace the 40 to 50 percent engineering and science faculty who will retire in the next 20 years.

And to make quality education more accessible to the growing state population, the legislature will be asked to approve two branch campuses to be situated in Bothell and Tacoma. These new facilities will be targeted toward members of the workforce who can only attend classes at night or on weekends.

“We are most concerned about getting a commitment for the long haul,” Edie said. “It can’t be on a hit-or-miss basis. It takes years to build up a world-class university, but it can deteriorate very fast if neglected.”

Edie said the UW is considered THE university west of Minneapolis and north of Berkeley. “It is on a par with Michigan, the University of North Carolina and the University of Illinois. It is among the top five in the country in obtaining federal dollars.”

That’s why the work of Edie and his assistants, Kathy Muffley and Sherry Burkey, is so intense.

Muffley works with specific alumni who contact their local legislators on behalf of the university. “These alumni are often more effective than we because they live in the lawmaker’s district and often are active in local politics,” Edie said.

Muffley also sorts through the 3,000 or so bills introduced in each session and distributes the pertinent ones to various departments for comment. “We actually monitor 50 to 100 bills, watch 30 closely, and are really concerned with 10,” Edie said.

In Olympia, Edie and Burkey share the load between budget and tax issues and higher-education issues. Burkey coordinates testimony before committees and has the lead on the branch campus issue.

Often the days there stretch to 12 to 14 hours, but the pace isn’t hectic until the closing week or so of the session when there is a rush to get bills passed.

Edie has been working to change the university’s image in Olympia. When he first took the job, the perception was that the school was an ivory-tower institution that did not care enough about the state.

“To change that perception, we have been enlisting the help of the alumni, telling our story to the media, working with other schools, like Washington State University, and making a real effort to better serve the state. The branch campus proposal is part of that effort,” he said.

Also important in the image change was a two-and-a-half day session for the 18 new legislators, designed to help them understand the issues in the 1989 session as well as the workings of the House and the Senate. Legislators also have been brought on campus to tour facilities and see research in progress. Edie believes it all is working toward a new view of the U.

How will the university fare in the 1989 session?

“I think that we will do well,” he said. “In the last session we did very well, and the election has not changed the complexion in Olympia—the Republicans still hold a narrow margin in the Senate and the Democrats control the House. The university has had good support on both sides of the aisle and in the governor’s office. I think that support will continue.”

Edie said that the state’s economy overall is doing well and the state government even had a surplus. “Since the name of the game is often money, I’m cautiously optimistic.”