OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington state Sen. Scott White, a transit advocate who quickly rose to a leadership position in the Legislature, was found dead Friday at a resort hotel. He was 41.
Kittitas County Sheriff Gene Dana said there was no sign of foul play in the death but that authorities are investigating because it remains unexplained. Housekeeping staff at the Suncadia Resort found White after he failed to check out of his room. An autopsy is planned.
The Democrat represented the state's 46th District, covering northern parts of Seattle. White joined the Senate last year and rose to serve as the Senate's majority whip, advocating for transit issues as a caucus transportation leader. He worked most recently as a project manager at the University of Washington.
State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said White was a young politician that many viewed as having immense potential -- perhaps someone to be in Congress or Senate Majority Leader. He worked well with people across the political spectrum and had a fresh approach to politics that the public desired, Murray said.
"What stood out was that he was ambitious but he was positive," Murray said. "He wasn't ambitious and divisive. Scott wanted to figure out how to be progressive and how to move forward in a positive way."
Murray recalled a caucus meeting last month in which lawmakers were assessing a gloomy budget situation. He said White framed the issue in the most personal terms: He recently took his son to the first day of kindergarten and was concerned about the impact education cuts could have on class sizes.
White is survived by his wife and two children.
In the Legislature, White sought to shape and advance transportation issues for the Seattle metro area. This year, he successfully pushed a bill to provide funding for King County Metro by allowing local officials to implement a congestion reduction charge of $20 per vehicle. He said transit was critical to help people -- commuters, seniors and students in particular -- get to work and school in a difficult economy.
White was in Cle Elum at the Suncadia Resort, where he was participating in a leadership conference organized by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. He was on a panel Thursday speaking about ways that the west side of the state and the east side of the state can better work together.
Randy Hodgins, vice president of external affairs for the University of Washington, said he and others went out for drinks with White after dinner on Thursday night. He recalled that White talked about how content he was with the work he was doing in Olympia. The group returned to the hotel around 10:30 p.m., and Hodgins said White was upbeat.
"He was in a great mood like he always is," Hodgins said. "We had great, wonderful night."
Hodgins noticed that White wasn't around for events Friday morning but assumed he had left for home early.
A native of Olympia, White played football at Timberline High School before going to both Western Washington University and the University of Washington. He worked on the King County Council, rising to serve as chief of staff before getting elected to the state House in 2008 before moving to the Senate two years later.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said White was never afraid to tackle difficult problems.
"I found him to be an absolute pleasure to work with, and a legislator who served his district and the entire state well," Gregoire said. "He had a bright and promising future ahead of him."