OLYMPIA — Sen. Bob McCaslin, the most senior member of the Legislature who has represented Spokane Valley's 4th District for 30 years, is retiring because of health problems.
In a prepared statement, McCaslin said health problems have resurfaced that have changed his plans to serve out his term, which ends in 2012.
“I’ve always tried not to let the years slow me down or affect my ability to serve the people of the 4th District, but as my doctors have made clear to me, that can no longer be the case,”
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, confirmed that McCaslin called him this morning to say he would not be returning to Olympia for the upcoming session, which starts Monday.
“I'm going to miss him,” Hewitt said, adding that McCaslin served as both the institutional memory of the Senate Republican caucus and a calming influence during contentious times.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she would miss McCaslin's wit and knowledge of legislative procedure: “He was a real gentleman on the floor, and really humorous.” Although a conservative from a conservative district, McCaslin's work with Sen. Jeanne Kohl Wells, a Seattle liberal, on medical marijuana research was an example of how people who disagree 90 percent of the time can find common ground, she said.
Brown recalled when she was first elected to the House and went to meet McCaslin, who was already a senior member of the delegation. “He shook my hand for the first time, looked at me and said 'I know you're a Democrat, but you've got to get a stronger handshake.'”
McCaslin, 84, missed much of the 2010 legislative session because of heart surgery in February. He returned to Spokane for treatment, and in March resumed work at his other elective position on the Spokane Valley City Council.
He was first elected to the state Senate in 1980, and has easily dispatched Democratic challengers every four years since. He ran against then-Mayor Rich Munson and won a seat on the Valley Council in 2009.
His retirement means Republican precinct committee officers in the 4th Legislative District will choose up to three nominees as a replacement. Spokane County Commissioners would then select one of the nominees by a majority vote. If the commission were to deadlock, the seat would be filled by the governor.
State Rep. Larry Crouse, the Valley's senior House member, said McCaslin had talked about retiring after last November's election, but had been feeling well enough in the fall that he had made plans to return for the 2011 session. At dinner on Monday night, Crouse said, McCaslin told him his doctor advised him not to do that.
Crouse said he was not going to apply for the Senate seat, because it would involve trading his seniority in the House, where he is among the most senior members, for freshman status in the Senate. “It's the same work, the same hours, the same pay. I just feel I could do more for the district in the House.”
Four or five Republicans may seek the appointment, Crouse said, including state Rep. Matt Shea.