Most senators sit at their desks, flipping through papers, calling out responses to roll calls and a “yea” or “nay” when it’s time. But Sen. Jim Hargrove is like a caged tiger. He prowls the chamber, crouching by a colleague for a chat or briefly emerging to call out his vote.
Or, for just a minute or two, flopping down alone on the sofa in the rear of the chamber for a chance to concentrate on some item, some issue, that for the moment has his full attention.
Soon enough he leaps up, a now-urgent question for a colleague on his lips. He receives his answer and moves on.
Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, is a bundle of energy and ideas. And independence.
With 26 years of service — the first seven spent in the House — Hargrove is now the second-longest-serving legislator in Olympia. He has spent his time well: He is now among the most powerful figures in Washington politics. As chair of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee, he sees all bills related to children and families and considers all issues related to crime and corrections. Hargrove recognizes the authority he wields, pointing out that with the exception of the state’s education programs, he has his hand on just about everything that passes through the capitol.
He shrugs, as if it’s no big deal.
That’s power — and Hargrove has used that power to put his own imprint on how Washingtonians care for those in need. He also has shaped to his liking the state’s correctional philosophy.
Of course, when money is tight, all that power is simply an extension of responsibility — for example, now, when the first priority of the Legislature isn’t to decide where money should be spent but rather which programs must be saved.
Hargrove is most proud of his efforts to reduce crime in Washington.
Others also have taken note of the innovative legislative efforts Hargrove has spearheaded during his time in office. In January the Washington State Institute of Public Policy issued a report that showed significant declines in the state’s crime rates and juvenile prison population during Hargrove’s tenure as chair of the Human Services and Corrections Committee. The report estimates the state is saving $1.13 billion in prison costs and $5 billion in private costs every two years due to the decline in recidivism rates among the incarcerated.
Hargrove agrees his work has led to safer streets, pointing out the crime rate is now at the lowest level in 20 years.
The list of bills passed with Hargrove’s stamp is impressive. They are also sometimes controversial. Hargrove said many of his constituents recoil at the thought of providing criminals with benefits, including education.
Hargrove disagrees and has successfully worked to create mental health and methamphetamine-abuse treatment programs across the state. He has also passed legislation to fund work training for the unemployed and child welfare reform efforts targeted to troubled, abused and orphaned children.
It comes with a price tag, he said, but the investment is small when compared to incarceration. He notes that most of the states across the U.S. have chosen a different route, focusing instead on reducing crime by putting more people in prison. He provided a statistical comparison, saying if Washington had followed the same path to achieve today’s low crime rates, 18,330 additional people would be in prison, at the cost of more than $1 billion per biennium.
“Some people think I’m doing it for (the criminals),” he said. “I’m not.”
In the end, it’s a way of saving money — big money, he said.
Hargrove put it simply: “We’re spending millions to save billions.”