Joel Connelly at Clingmans Dome
Journalist and columnist Joel Connelly takes in a sunset at Clingsman Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in 2017 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

After near­ly half a cen­tu­ry of ser­vice to the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer and its online suc­ces­sor,, my friend Joel Con­nel­ly today clocked out for the last time as a full time employ­ee of Hearst, the P‑I’s own­er since 1921.

As a con­se­quence of his retire­ment, there is no longer any­one left at the P‑I who worked for its print incar­na­tion, which ceased pub­li­ca­tion in 2009.

It thus tru­ly is the end of an era.

Few jour­nal­ists around these parts have a record of ser­vice or a lega­cy of good works as long and as sig­nif­i­cant as Joel’s; he is a league of his own.

With Joel hav­ing filed his last sto­ry as a Hearst employ­ee, it’s fit­ting that his many con­tri­bu­tions to the Pacif­ic North­west as a P‑I reporter and colum­nist be rec­og­nized and laud­ed. Whether cov­er­ing fed­er­al, state, local, or even Cana­di­an pol­i­tics, Joel has con­sis­tent­ly helped a lot of peo­ple make sense of the issues of the day with mean­ing­ful analy­sis and mem­o­rable metaphors.

Joel’s long career at the P‑I began in the ear­ly 1970s. As he relat­ed in an inter­view with fel­low Notre Dame alum­nus J.P. Hick­ey:

My dream to go into acad­e­mia was inter­rupt­ed, between my M.A. and Ph.D. by a sum­mer replace­ment gig at the Seat­tle Post Intel­li­gencer. It changed my career path abrupt­ly. Two weeks into the job, I wrote a sto­ry that helped block a land exchange at Larrabee State Park, where I had worked sum­mers. The exchange would have tak­en Chuck­anut Moun­tain out of the park, after which its trees would have been clear cut and shipped off to Japan.

The exchange died of news­pa­per expo­sure with­in forty-eight hours. The pow­er of the press helped define my per­ma­nent vocation.

The state’s sec­ond largest news­pa­per hired me full time and gave me “tenure.” We were a union shop secured by the Pacif­ic North­west News­pa­per Guild, which on occa­sion would dri­ve me nuts.

Nev­er­the­less, Joel per­sist­ed, and after start­ing with week­end work, he even­tu­al­ly became a wide­ly regard­ed and well known mem­ber of the staff.

“I would write end­less­ly of wilder­ness bat­tles in Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, British Colum­bia, and Alas­ka,” he told Hick­ey. “Three years of my life were con­sumed by slop­py han­dling of nuclear waste at Han­ford, and a nuclear plant con­struc­tion pro­gram of the Wash­ing­ton Pub­lic Pow­er Sup­ply Sys­tem (WPPSS, immor­tal­ized as Whoops.) Its cost over­runs threat­ened to melt down the Northwest’s economy.”

Joel’s work cov­er­ing WPPSS (whoops!) would be nom­i­nat­ed for a Pulitzer Prize.

That body of work is so author­i­ta­tive, in fact, that if you pick up a book about WPPSS — like Daniel Pope’s Nuclear Implo­sions — you will find cita­tion after cita­tion of arti­cles that Joel wrote for the P‑I dur­ing the 1980s. They are present in a man­ner not unlike road­way mile mark­ers at the bot­tom of the book’s pages.

WPPSS’s nuclear ambi­tions even­tu­al­ly col­lapsed, result­ing in what was, at the time, the largest munic­i­pal bond default in the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States. (The con­sor­tium lat­er chose to rebrand as “Ener­gy North­west” in the 1990s.)

A 1989 advert in Editor & Publisher
A 1989 advert in Edi­tor & Pub­lish­er depict­ing Ron Red­mond, Joel Con­nel­ly, and Chris Han­son: “Three good rea­sons Seat­tle looks to the P‑I for news”

Lat­er that decade, Joel would go on to cov­er fed­er­al pol­i­tics for the P‑I in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., work­ing out of Hearst’s offices on the oth­er coast.

“I was the paper’s Wash­ing­ton, D.C., cor­re­spon­dent for four and one half years in the late 1980’s, the high tide of Ronald Rea­gan, the Iran-Con­tra mess, and first year of the Bush I admin­is­tra­tion,” Joel recalled. “Hearst had its bureau at 1701 Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue, a two-minute walk from the White House.”

As the 1990s approached, the Pacif­ic North­west beckoned.

“Back home, I was a nation­al cor­re­spon­dent and then a colum­nist,” Joel explained. “My heroes were two Cana­di­ans — House of Com­mons Speak­er John Fras­er (the green Tory) and Seat­tle Uni­ver­si­ty grad Dave Bar­rett, the first social­ist pre­mier of British Colum­bia — and, House Speak­er Tom Foley, from East­ern Wash­ing­ton. [He] sym­bol­ized a pre-Gin­grich Con­gress in which mem­bers were civ­il, and dis­agreed – even pas­sion­ate­ly – with­out being disagreeable.”

Joel’s In The North­west col­umn was a must-read.

As a teenage activist, I got a sub­scrip­tion to the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer in part so that I could enjoy it over break­fast with my oat­meal. I began cor­re­spond­ing with Joel in the mid-2000s and we quick­ly became fast friends.

On the day of the water­shed 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, I stopped by the P‑I news­room to talk with Joel about the his­to­ry that we were liv­ing through.

Just a few months lat­er, as the Great Reces­sion wore on, Hearst decid­ed to cease pub­lish­ing the Seat­tle P‑I’s print edi­tion and trans­form it into an online-only pub­li­ca­tion after fail­ing to find a buy­er for the newspaper.

While this move result­ed in many of Joel’s col­leagues retir­ing or leav­ing Hearst, Joel stayed in har­ness at “San Sime­on Online”, and took pri­ma­ry respon­si­bil­i­ty for the P‑I’s polit­i­cal beat, cov­er­ing three more pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cycles (2012, 2016, and the still-in-progress 2020), plus every­thing in between. sim­ply won’t be the same with­out Joel and Joel’s thought­ful report­ing, as every P‑I afi­ciona­do and for­mer sub­scriber can attest.

Most of the P‑I’s archives are not read­i­ly acces­si­ble on the open web, but here is a sam­pling of the columns and sto­ries Joel wrote in his last decade or so at the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer that I regard as some of his finest work.

2009 | I‑1033: An initiative that could turn Washington into Mississippi

“We all grum­ble about gov­ern­ment, but need it. What is growth with­out infra­struc­ture? What is eco­nom­ic recov­ery with­out a brains-based econ­o­my and brains trained to work in it? Could a state gov­ern­ment, oper­at­ing on star­va­tion rations, respond to an unex­pect­ed emer­gency — a mod­er­ate or major earth­quake, or maybe anoth­er erup­tion from one of our five active volcanoes?”

July 9th, 2009

2010 | The amazing Patty Murray does it again

“Unlike some of Wash­ing­to­ni­an’s win­ners — often, law­mak­ers who wor­shiped at the altar of their own unap­pre­ci­at­ed bril­liance — Mur­ray gets stuff done. She finds allies. If one path is blocked, she finds anoth­er. She does­n’t toss around acronyms about fed­er­al med­ical research pro­grams. As a Sen­ate neo­phyte, how­ev­er, she gave a speech about sev­en friends who had died of ovar­i­an can­cer — and helped get mon­ey for long-neglect­ed wom­en’s dis­eases.”

Novem­ber 3rd, 2010

2011 | Michele Bachmann for President — off, but running

“A Theodore Roo­sevelt Repub­li­can, she ain’t. But Bach­man­n’s most fero­cious prose is reserved for health care reform, which she describes as ‘the gov­ern­ment takeover of health care … the Amer­i­can ver­sion of social­ized med­i­cine’ — even though Con­gress reject­ed a Euro­pean-style, sin­gle-pay­er system.”

June 19th, 2011

2012 | Mossyrock cop: State’s new conservation hero

“As wor­thy pro­grams get slashed in the Great Reces­sion, the Wildlife and Recre­ation Coali­tion has sur­vived and gar­nered bipar­ti­san sup­port in Olympia. Numer­ous of the state’s blue herons owe their sur­vival to beach­es and lagoons it has saved. A lot of kids use play fields it has under­writ­ten. And the Coalition’s future is look­ing bright.”

Sep­tem­ber 19th, 2012

2013 | Coal trains, pipelines, climate: British Columbia vote mirrors U.S.

“The elec­tion is being fought in 85 rid­ings around the province.  Clark, Dix and lead­ers of the Green and Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ties are all run­ning for seats in the British Colum­bia Leg­is­la­ture. The par­ty that wins a major­i­ty forms the gov­ern­ment. Its leader becomes Pre­mier, with pow­ers that a U.S. gov­er­nor can only dream about.”

May 13th, 2013

2014 | Eastside Catholic and Archbishop Sartain: A case for connecting

“The Arch­dio­cese of Seat­tle is no easy flock. Its paris­hon­ers are not about dis­ci­pline and dog­ma, and will not be docile. They made the Vat­i­can back down when it tried to strip pop­u­lar Arch­bish­op Ray­mond Hunthausen of his author­i­ty. Parish­es balked at coop­er­at­ing in the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign against mar­riage equality.”

Jan­u­ary 14th, 2014

2015 | Bernie Sanders draws 15,000 people at UW, state’s biggest political crowd since 2010 Obama visit

“Pres­i­dent Sanders? The East Coast pun­dit class can­not grasp that a self-iden­ti­fied ‘demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist,’ from a tiny state, who has been preach­ing against cor­po­rate pow­er in his Brook­lyn accents for 50 years, could pos­si­bly mount a cred­i­ble bid for the White House.  Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple, turn­ing out at ral­lies across the coun­try, beg to disagree.”

August 8th, 2015

2016 | Bill Bryant and Donald Trump: Silence is not golden

“Bill Bryant is an impres­sive can­di­date, a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man whose heroes are Theodore Roo­sevelt and Abra­ham Lin­coln.  He is mount­ing a need­ed, legit­i­mate chal­lenge to the Democ­rats’ 32-year grip on the Gov­er­nor’s office. He is, how­ev­er, on the spot. Don­ald Trump has put him there. It’s not enough to have vot­ed for John Kasich in the pri­ma­ry. Bill Bryant is, to bor­row Ted­dy Roo­sevelt’s phrase, a man in the are­na. Silence is not golden.”

June 7th, 2016

2017 | Ferguson delivers the laundry bill: Grocery Manufacturers told to pay $1.1 million

“The Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers Asso­ci­a­tion was ordered Wednes­day to pay $1.1 mil­lion in legal costs and fees to the State, on top of an $18 mil­lion judg­ment for laun­der­ing mon­ey in a 2013 Wash­ing­ton ini­tia­tive cam­paign. The legal costs rep­re­sents the lat­est vic­to­ry by state Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son over the influ­en­tial Wash­ing­ton, D.C., lob­by. The state’s lit­i­ga­tion against the food lob­by group is turn­ing into per­haps the largest laun­dry bill in record­ed history.”

March 1st, 2017

2018 | The summit of Mauna Kea: Hawaii heat to Hawaii heavens

“The sum­mit is an oth­er-world­ly place. The sun casts shad­ows on land, lights up the clouds, and casts pink alpine glow col­ors on the sides of eight tele­scopes at the sum­mit. All this, with the sun set­ting and cin­der cones chang­ing col­ors, unfold­ed to sounds of Yo Yo Ma from Hawaii Pub­lic Radio.”

Decem­ber 12th, 2018

2019 | Why do pundits of the right fear young climate, gun activists?

“The loud­mouths of Fox News inhab­it TV stu­dios. They wit­ness almost noth­ing hap­pen­ing in the world around them. They pan­der to a scle­rot­ic audi­ence that demands they deliv­er the par­ty line. Once crit­i­cal of Don­ald Trump, they have been trans­formed into his amen cor­ner. The ‘kids’ are also new media savvy and a step quicker.”

Sep­tem­ber 29th, 2019

And here’s a few of those great print columns:

If, like me, you have been a loy­al read­er of Joel’s jour­nal­ism and will miss his con­tri­bu­tions to the P‑I, I have good news. Joel is join­ing NPI as a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, occa­sion­al­ly cov­er­ing top­ics like the loom­ing con­test between Jaime Her­rera-Beut­ler and Car­olyn Long in the 3rd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, the region’s most com­pet­i­tive fed­er­al lev­el race this cycle. Our staff looks for­ward to work­ing with Joel to help­ing keep you informed about the con­tests and issues that mat­ter in this epic elec­tion year.

Thanks for every­thing, Joel, and here’s to the next chapter.

POSTSCRIPT: Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell has offered a love­ly trib­ute to Joel on the floor of the Unit­ed States Sen­ate. If you’d like to watch, here it is. Just click play!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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