Dixy Lee Ray, a usually undaunted nuclear power supporter and the last chairman of the old Atomic Energy Commission may be the feistiest and most unpredictable governor in Pacific Northwest history.
She seems to delight in taking on everyone in sight -- legislators, press, fellow Democrats, Ralph Nadar, Teddy Kennedy, even President Carter for wearing a sweater during the energy crisis.
She was downright gleeful about naming a litter of piglets, born on her farm out on Fox Island in Puget Sound, after the antagonistic capital press corps. Almost as gleeful as she was when the pigs grew up and she began to slaughter them.
She deals with the state legislature as imperiously as Charles I dealth with Cromwell's Parliment -- washpishly insulting them and hinting, as Washington State Democratic House co-speaker John Bagnariol said, that "she'd as soon as we never met." If that sounds like Charles, who disbanded the English Parliament, Bagnariol often sounds like Cromwell, who responded by beheading Charles.
The state legislature has moved back into Olympia for its election year session with most of the town looking for a Cromwell-style political beheading. Ray has been limping along in the polls, almost as low as was Carter before the Iran crisis. She has been touting nuclear power even while the voters rejected, by 2 to 1 last November, a plan to build two nuclear plants in a rural county north of Seattle.
Bagnariol and another powerful Democratic state legisator, Sen. James McDermott of Seattle, have been vying to see who would oppose her in the primary. The list of Republicans has been even longer, including cospeaker Duane Berentson (the House is in a 49 to 49 party deadlock), secretary of state Bruce Chapman and King County executive John Spellman, whom Ray defeated in 1976.
Midway through the legislature's first week, however, Ray turned the political picture in Washington State upside down.
In her state of the state speech, Ray did an abrupt about-face on nuclear power siting. Any future nuclear plants in Washington State, she said, should go to the Hanford Atomic Works, the isolated desert-country reservation on which the United States secretly developed plutonium for the first bomb during World War II.
Further, she threatened to cut off Hanford as a storage center for the nation's low-level nuclear wastes by the end of 1982 unless at least a dozen such sites are built in other states. Hanford is now one of three national dump sites and its closure could have severe reprecussions elsewhere.
All of Olympia's Cromwells, who had been calling her "Madam Nuke" and planning political campaigns around the issue, immediately cried politics and described them as "dictatorial" at that. But, politics or not, it was clear Ray had taken the wind out of their sails.
She also shook the political establishment again by hiring former Republican governor Dan Evans' chief political stategist, C. Montgomery Johnson, at the unprecedented sum of $7,500 a month.
Almost all the bedazzled legislators saw Johnson's smooth touch in turning Ray around on the nuclear issue. And the governor openly acknowledged that she took Johnson's advice on her speech to the legislature.
On the eve of the speech Johnson warned that the oddsmakers, confused by the unusual politics, were forgetting some basic politics -- the same power of the incumbency that President Carter has been using. "What you all forget," Johnson said, "is this is like a poker game. And, of all the players in the game, there is only one who for sure has a pair of jacks."
Ray has played her jacks. Now the rest of the players get to play their cards -- and wonder what else the governor has in her mind.