Remembering the OWL party

timestamp icon
category icon Columns, Opinion

In 1976, the OWL Party brought something into Washington State’s political arena that was usually lacking, and that was humor.

This year’s presidential campaigning has become the source of crazy things happening on the way to the General Election. Forty years ago, some unpredictable things happened during that year’s General Election campaign time. That was the year of the OWL party.

The OWL party? What was the OWL party, you ask? Well, the OWL party was a new political party that was formed in Washington State that year.

Was it a new political party desiring to give Washington State voters new choices to vote on? Yes it was, sort of. What it really was was a new “political party” that was created strictly for fun.

How did the OWL party come into existence?

One evening during the weeks of late summer in 1976, a small group of people were having an enjoyable conversation at a lounge in Tumwater, Washington. Because it was an election year, the conversation soon drifted to that year’s political choices, and it quickly became obvious that everyone in the group thought that politics needed more humor in it. In short order, the merriment of the discussion resulted in everyone agreeing that a new political party needed to be formed, a new political party that would bring humor to the political arena.

As that conversation was taking place, there was a man sitting by himself a short distance away. He didn’t join the group’s conversation, instead just sitting there listening to those people talk.

When the club closed that night, everyone headed out to their homes. Except that guy that had been sitting over by himself. Instead, he went to his office.

Red Kelly, owner of that nightclub, was one of the people in that group. He was surprised to receive a phone call early the next morning from a major news network wanting to know more about that new political party.

Seems that the guy that had been sitting over by himself was a reporter for a news service, and when the club closed, he had sent in a report about a new political party being formed in the Olympia, Washington area.

Kelly could think and act quickly. He told the person on the phone that yes, they were forming the OWL party and the letters OWL would stand for two things, “Out With Logic” and “On With Lunacy,” and the party motto would be “We don’t give a hoot!”

Eight people quickly joined that new party to be OWL Party candidates for the statewide positions that would be on that year’s General Election ballot.

Darrel Griswold was selected to be the chairman, and the OWL party was off and running. Actually, “flying fast and high” might better describe the adventure that they were about to embark on.

A few months after the election, the OWL party would be the main reason why the State Senate and Legislature changed the rules regarding how new political parties could be formed, and the new governor, Dixie Lee Ray, signed those changes into law.

Who were the OWL party Candidates?

Eight people filed as OWL Party candidates for various statewide offices including Red Kelly, governor; Jack “the Ripoff,” Lemon, lieutenant governor; “Fast” Lucie Griswold, secretary of state; Ruthie “Boom Boom” McInnis, auditor; Jack T. Perciful, state treasurer; “Bunco” Bob Kelly, attorney general; Don “Earthquake” Ober, commissioner of public lands; and Archie “Whiplash” Breslin, insurance commissioner.

The names and pictures of the OWL party candidates were included in the voters’ pamphlet and their names placed on the ballot. Six of the OWL party candidates submitted statements to be included in the voters’ pamphlet.

The news media, always hungry for good political stories, sent out several stories about the OWL party and its candidates with unusual nicknames. In short order, newspapers all across America were carrying stories about Washington State’s new OWL party and its slate of candidates.

Ruthie “Boom Boom” McInnis received 45,573 votes statewide, getting 3.35 percent of the votes. She didn’t provide any information for the voter’s pamphlet, nor did she do any campaigning. Her name was mentioned in many OWL party newspaper stories, giving her “name recognition” across the state.

The OWL party’s secretary of state candidate’s information in the voter’s pamphlet was quite interesting. That candidate, “Fast” Lucie Griswold, wife of OWL party Chairman Darrell Griswold, had never ran for political office before. While she said that she did do some campaigning in Tumwater, she didn’t do any campaigning in the rest of the state. But “Fast” Lucy Griswold, received more than 40,000 votes statewide, receiving 2.91 percent of the votes cast for the position.

The reason why she did as good as she did in the General Election was probably because of her position on issues that she mentioned in her voter’s pamphlet statement. In that statement, she said that, “….as I campaigned across the width and breadth of Tumwater, it has come to my attention that no secretary of state has been able to take shorthand or do typing.” Therefore, it was her plan to, when elected to the position of secretary of state, take a correspondence course in typing and shorthand, thereby giving Washington State something it had never had before, a secretary of state that could type and take shorthand. She also said that she was opposed to 1) the heartbreak of psoriasis, 2) post nasal drip, 3) the big “O,” and 4) bed wetting.

Red Kelly told people that if elected governor, one of the first things he would do is change the name of the state capital from Olympia to “Ept.” By doing that, he said he could honestly say that the state legislature was “in Ept.” He also would ban blind people from skydiving. His reason for wanting that change was because when blind people skydived, that scared their seeing-eye dogs. Red Kelly summed up his positions this way: he was for everything and against everything else.

The way that most of the OWL party candidates listed their names probably contributed significantly to the surprising number of votes they received. After all, when’s the last time you were able to vote for a candidate with the nickname “Earthquake?” And there was “Bunco” Bob Kelly seeking the attorney general’s position, Archie “Whiplash” Breslin for state insurance commissioner, and Jack “the Ripoff” Lemon as the person that would immediately assume the governor’s position if the governor should suddenly die or become unable to continue serving. Hey, it can’t get much better than that!

Jack Perciful didn’t fancy up his name, instead listing his name as Jack T. Perciful. By including his middle initial, that made him appear to be a truly honest person. After all, he was running for the position of state treasure.

The impact of the OWL party

So, did any of the OWL party candidates get elected to the positions they were seeking? No they did not.

Did any of the OWL party candidates honestly expect to be elected to the positions they were candidates for? Probably not.

Did any of the OWL party candidates actually hope to win election to the positions they were candidates for? Again, probably not.

Did the OWL party candidates have fun running for those statewide political positions? Yes, they all had fun.

After all, the OWL party was formed for the purpose of having fun. And, in view of the action taken just months after the 1976 General Election by the state legislature in changing the rules and regulations regarding the forming of new political parties, it would appear that the OWL party had been successful in “messing” with those old rules for the forming of new political parties.

Forty years have passed since those few weeks of the OWL party’s time of fun, fame and glory in the public spotlight. Most of those OWL party candidates have now passed on. At the time of this writing, only one of the candidates is believed to still be alive, “Bunco” Bob Kelly.

I’m old enough to remember the OWL party. So, did I vote for any of the OWL party candidates? I don’t remember who I voted for in many of the statewide positions that year, but I do remember that, with a clear conscience, I did vote for “Fast” Lucie Griswold. It was her position of being opposed to post nasal drip and bed wetting that won my vote.

No doubt about it; the OWL party provided a lot of enjoyable election time humor for Washington State residents during the 1976 election year. And not just for the residents of the State of Washington, but because many newspapers across America carried OWL party stories, it provided election time humor for hundreds of thousands of residents all across the United States.

If only we could have the OWL party and its original slate of candidates again to weave into this year’s ongoing political chaos. I can easily imagine “Fast” Lucie Griswold, still opposed to post nasal drip and bedwetting, now running as this year’s OWL party candidate for president and debating Donald Trump. I’m thinking that “The Donald” would probably lose that debate.

Jim Fisher, known locally as “the old hermit at skunk hollow,” is a longtime Camas resident.