OLYMPIA — A pair of key Washington lawmakers, one from a new generation and one from the old guard, won’t run for reelection this year.
First, the old guard: Washington Sen. Tim Sheldon, the longest-serving active member of the Legislature and a conservative Democrat who in recent years has crossed the aisle to work with Republicans, is retiring.
In an interview Wednesday evening, Sheldon, 75, said he would make a formal announcement Thursday, the last day of the legislative session.
“It’s kind of time to put the gavel on the shelf,” said Sheldon, who lives in Potlatch, Mason County. “I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been a great experience for me.”
First elected to the House in 1990 before moving to the Senate later that decade, Sheldon represents the 35th legislative district, one of the more rural stretches of Western Washington.
Sheldon has long had an independent streak. In 2013, he and a pair of other Democrats broke away to write a budget with Republicans, and went on to cross the aisle that allowed the GOP to assemble a Senate majority between 2014 and 2017. Sheldon has since been scorned by Democratic Party officials.
Still, he has sided with Democrats on some key issues. Last year, he voted for the final version of a carbon cap-and-trade program, a major climate change priority for Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee. In 2014, Sheldon voted for the bill that became known as the Washington Dream Act, which expanded state financial aid for college students without legal status.
In one last act of scrambling expectations, Sheldon said he will vote Thursday in favor of Democrats’ new supplemental operating budget and transportation package.
Sheldon counted among his accomplishments the $3 million in funding a few years ago to clean the Capitol dome, which restored the surface after it had become darkened over time.
At the same time, Sheldon said he regretted his opposition in earlier years to bills geared at advancing equity for LGBTQ communities. The senator was one of those who in 2012 opposed the bill that ultimately legalized gay marriage in Washington.
“I’ve tried to make up for it in my voting the last few years. … I think I’ve been educated a lot by my daughter and my wife,” Sheldon said.
Rep. Drew MacEwen, a Republican from Union, also in the 35th legislative district, announced his bid for Sheldon’s seat Thursday.
“The legislature functions best when it is balanced,” MacEwen said in a statement. “I believe we can win the majority in the senate and return our state to a balance that is more in touch not only with the citizens of the 35th district but our state as a whole.”
Sheldon’s retirement comes in the latest wave of House and Senate departures. Rep. Laurie Dolan, D-Olympia, announced last month that she wouldn’t run for election again.
And on Wednesday, Rep. Jesse Johnson, a Democrat from Federal Way who last year shepherded two of the biggest policing reform laws, announced he also wouldn’t run for reelection.
Appointed in January 2020 to the 30th legislative district seat, Johnson was among a wave of younger and more diverse Democratic lawmakers to come into office in recent years. Before his appointment, Johnson, now 32, was the youngest Federal Way City Council member in its history.
Johnson quickly came into the spotlight after the protests against the killings of George Floyd, Manuel Ellis and others at the hands of police. Democratic lawmakers tapped him to help craft a package of what would become a dozen bills to change law enforcement in the state.
He sponsored perhaps the two biggest of those laws. House Bill 1054, which banned law enforcement from using chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants, and restricted the use of tear gas. Meanwhile House Bill 1310 defined and limited officers’ use of deadly force.
This year, Johnson worked on tweaks to those laws, including a bill signed Friday by Inslee to make clear that law enforcement can still respond and take action during calls for people in a mental health crisis.
In a statement, Johnson said he was not running again to allow him to focus more on his family, including his 6-month-old child and a wife in medical school.
“I only know one way to serve in elected office, which is to give my 110% and I cannot make that commitment with another term,” Johnson said in prepared remarks. “After serving during a pandemic, unprecedented economic challenges and racial reckoning, I have given my full self to this work to pass policy to help people and bring funding to my district.”
Johnson, who is Black, added, “I have always wanted to show young people and people of color in my community that you can be in this position and that representation matters.”
The announcements are the latest in a wave of retirements, which also include Sens. Reuven Carlyle and David Frockt, both Democrats from Seattle.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.