Thursday, September 4, 2008

Heck of a guy

Latest in my semi-retirement victory lap of lunches with old friends and colleagues was yesterday in Olympia, where I was happy to dine with Denny Heck, the onetime boy wonder legislator whose impressive post-politics resume includes becoming business partner of Matassa's favorite journalist.

Incredibly, Denny and I go back nearly 20 years now, to my tenure as a capital bureau reporter for the Seattle Times. By the time I got to know him Denny already had come and gone in the Legislature, having been elected at age 24 as a representative from Southwest Washington and eventually becoming House majority leader. In my time at the Capitol, Denny was chief of staff to the popular Democratic governor, Booth Gardner, and I'd characterize our relationship as cordial but wary -- both ways. He was somewhat aloof, sometimes a source, sometimes an antagonist, always a protective advocate for and adviser to his boss the governor. We had our disagreements about my coverage, I remember that, but I always respected him as incredibly smart and politically astute and -- probably, under that partisan armor -- a good guy.

Somehow we stayed in touch after Gardner left office, I left Olympia for Seattle and Denny left politics to found and run TVW, which is this state's version of C-SPAN. Later, when I decided to leave the Seattle Times and, with my friend Emory Thomas, start my own Web-based news-aggregation business, PersonalReader, Denny signed on as an angel investor.

Without his backing we really couldn't have gotten PersonalReader too far off the ground. High among the many disappointments of operating an ultimately unsuccessful business, I regret I was never able to show Denny a return on his investment.

So, when we reconnected recently via Facebook and Denny asked about the vaguely referenced health crisis that sent me into semi-retirement, I was only too happy to meet him in Oly to fill him in.

That boring subject out of the way, we enjoyed a nice meal at a cool downtown restaurant (new since I lived there) called Rambling Jack's -- turkey sandwich for me, calzone for Denny -- and gossipped and kibitzed about politics and newspapers. He just got back from the Democratic convention in Denver, and he was rapturous.

We also talked about what we both do in our retirement. Uh, I think Denny puts his time to better use. He wrote and self-published a mystery novel, "The Enemy You Know" -- not autobiographical, he says, although coincidentally about a retired Olympia pol who discovers a body at an Eastern Washington lake where the real Denny also happens to own a cabin -- and he has just written and stars in a one-man play, "Our Times," about an older character named Denny Heck who looks back on 30 years of Washington's political past.

Well, write what you know, they say.

There is one more performance of "Our Times" scheduled, in October, and I'm hoping to see it. I've also asked Denny if there are any remaindered copies of "The Enemy You Know" lying around; it's out of print now otherwise.

When he talked about both writing projects, but especially the book, his enthusiasm was infectious. Almost enough to get a junkie gambler off his lazy ass and sit him down at a keyboard. We'll see about that. Denny also claims to be a killer cribbage player. Maybe we'll see about that too.


Rita said...

Denny does sound like a heck of a guy. A very interesting character. I'm sure you enjoyed the reconnection.

Hope you manage to see 'Our Times' and latch on to a copy of his book. As you said, the time is now is get off the l.a. and back to the kb.

In keeping with the victory lap of lunches, remember lunch AND dinner are served here every day.

freda said...

Congratulations to Denny, two books, that is quite an accomplishment, so Mark, when are we going to see your book?

Jim Thomsen said...

I'll buy a copy of the book if he can scrape up one more. I'm thinking about self-publishing my own mystery novel. I'd love to pick his brain about the process.

I love hearing stories like this. Just as I've followed your career for 20 years, so have I his. I love a good denouement.