Nearly a dozen state House members are retiring. The departures could add intrigue to what’s expected to be a fierce November election over control of the Washington Legislature.
OLYMPIA — Nearly a dozen retirements in the state House are adding intrigue to what’s expected to be a fierce November election to control the Washington Legislature.
In recent weeks, three Democratic and seven Republican House members have announced their departures. Another GOP representative is expected to step down to run for state Senate.
All told, more than one-tenth of the 98 House members will be leaving the chamber.
The tally includes House Minority Leader Rep. Dan Kristiansen of Snohomish, who has led Republicans since 2013, and a trio of Democratic committee chairs.
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Many of the retiring lawmakers come from districts considered safe for their parties.
But the retirements come as Democrats hold a two-seat edge in the House and a one-seat Senate majority.
Republicans this fall dream of flipping a seat or two in at least one of the chambers, to boost their leverage in Olympia.
For Democrats, expanding their narrow majorities could mean accomplishing some priorities — such as new gun regulations — that remain out of reach.
The House retirements are reminiscent of 2016, when seven senators — many with decades of experience — stepped aside.
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, credited this year’s retirement wave to the fact that “we’ve had very little turnover in the last four to six years.”
The record-long 193-day legislative session in 2017 also took a toll on some members, said Wilcox, whom House Republicans recently elected minority leader.
One of those is Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes and chair of the House Finance Committee, which handles tax policy.
As a member of Democratic budget-writing teams, Lytton cited the extra legislative sessions that lawmakers have needed in most recent years to finish their work.
“It’s almost like we need to be a full-time Legislature, or figure out a different schedule,” Lytton said. She added that the past few years have felt more partisan, too, especially with the rise of social media.
Other lawmakers say they have just decided to move on.
“I’ve fulfilled my dream job,” Haler said.
“A huge loss”
Other than Lytton, Democrats are losing Reps. Ruth Kagi, of Seattle, and Judy Clibborn, of Mercer Island.
Among other things, Kagi helped develop the new state Department of Children, Youth, and Families.
Clibborn in 2015 help lead negotiations for the $16 billion statewide transportation package that also authorized a vote for the Sound Transit expansion.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien and chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said losing three veterans members is “a huge loss” in terms of their experience.
But, “I don’t think we expect to worry about those seats going to a Republican,” he said.
Republicans are losing members in three seats that Democrats intend to target.
In the 25th District, Reps. Melanie Stambaugh and Joyce McDonald, both of Puyallup, are stepping down.
In the 5th District, Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, is stepping down. Rodne, who in 2015 made controversial remarks about Muslims, such as calling them “barbarians,” won re-election in 2016 by just under 4 points.
Democrats are also expected to target the other 5th District Republican, Rep. Paul Graves of Fall City.
Tina Podlodowski, chair of Washington State Democratic Party, said she expects voters to respond favorably to a slew of Democratic priorities that passed this year through the Legislature.
Among others, she cited several voting-rights bills, legislation on women’s reproductive health and equal pay, and the one-time property-tax decrease.
“All of these things are great things to run on,” Podlodowski said.
Democrats plan to challenge several GOP Senate incumbents, she said, including Mark Miloscia, of Federal Way, Doug Ericksen, of Ferndale, Jan Angel, of Port Orchard, and Joe Fain, of Auburn.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, is expected to step down and run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.
Democrats plan to run competitive races for those seats, Podlodowski said.
But the 6th District seats have been largely safe for conservatives. Holy in 2016 won re-election by 26 points.
Republicans acknowledge they’ll have to defend the seats of Stambaugh, McDonald and Rodne.
But the GOP has already drawn an experienced candidate to run for Rodne’s seat, in former Rep. Chad Magendanz, of Issaquah.
Magendanz had stepped down from the other House seat in that district in 2016 to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet. Magendanz lost by less than one percent.
“He’s already running hard,” said Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party.
And the GOP plans to target several incumbent Democrats in purple districts, according to Heimlich.
Those include Democratic Reps. Brian Blake, of Aberdeen, Christine Kilduff, of University Place, as well as Rep. John Lovick, of Mill Creek and Sen. Steve Hobbs, of Lake Stevens, he said.
Heimlich pointed to Democratic proposals for new taxes on capital-gains and carbon, as well as the failure of lawmakers to cut Sound Transit car-tab fees as reasons voters may want to vote Republican.
“Our message to voters is, look, we need to restore balance in Olympia,” Heimlich said.
Meanwhile, the specter of President Donald Trump hangs above political races everywhere.
Wilcox, the Republican House minority leader, dismissed the prospect of a guaranteed Democratic wave.
“I do know that they’re going to try to nationalize every election, and we’re going to try to localize every election,” Wilcox said.
“We’ve done really well in a blue state by finding candidates that are embedded in their districts,” he added. “They don’t have to study up, because they grew up there, for the most part.”
Fitzgibbon, however, cited recent Democratic victories in a U.S. Senate race in Alabama and a congressional race in Pennsylvania as an indication that the national political situation may make more races in Washington competitive for Democrats.
“Wins in unlikely places like Pennsylvania and Alabama have us thinking that we really want to expand the playing field,” he said.