Sen. Mike Hewitt's decision may lead to an unusual coalition leadership arrangement in the Senate between Republicans and a couple of conservative Democrats.
OLYMPIA — Longtime Senate Republican leader Mike Hewitt is stepping down from his post.
Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said he plans to remain in the state Senate, where he’s served since 2000. He just doesn’t want to lead his caucus anymore.
“The position is very demanding. Very long hours and very stressful. I woke up this morning and decided this was it,” he said in an interview, noting he’s been thinking about stepping down for several months.
Hewitt, who became Senate Republican leader in December 2005, helped orchestrate the GOP takeover of the state Senate last session, when three conservative Democrats crossed party lines to give Republicans control of the budget.
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Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate and also control the House and the governor’s office.
The coup last session led to a bitter partisan fight and caustic relations between the two parties for weeks. News broke on Thursday that his caucus was considering grabbing control again next session and installing state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, as a coalition majority leader. Tom was one of three Democrats who took part in the budget coup.
Such a move appears to depend on whether GOP state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, wins a close race with Democratic Rep. Tim Probst, also of Vancouver. Benton holds a narrow lead. If he wins, Republicans think they can swing enough conservative Democrats to their side to take control again. If he loses, that talk may fade away.
Hewitt said the prospect of a new GOP takeover of the Senate did not factor into his decision.
He underwent surgery in April at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle to remove a thymoma tumor. Hewitt said his stamina hasn’t been the same since.
Also “having the cancer removed this year made me think about things differently. I’m 66 years old and almost 67,” he said. “I would just like to get some of my life back.”
The Senate GOP caucus is expected to elect a new Republican leader on Nov. 28. Hewitt said he didn’t know who would run to replace him.
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, the Senate Republican caucus chairwoman, said she didn’t know yet if she would run to replace Hewitt.
“This caught me off guard. It’s premature for me to answer that question,” she said. “That’s the truth. I was shocked. He’s done a great job as our leader.”
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the newly elected Senate majority leader, said he and Hewitt have been allies and opponents over the years, “but Mike has always been gracious personally and as a leader.”
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org