OLYMPIA -- Ross Hunter, the House Democrats' chief budget writer, is leaving the Legislature to take charge of the state Department of Early Learning.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced by press release this morning that Hunter, a 13-year legislative veteran from Medina, will replace Bette Hyde, who led the department for six years.
Hunter will start in the $150,000 a year job next Tuesday. He takes over at a time when the state is placing a major emphasis, and increased money, into early learning programs. He said he views the "opportunity to improve outcomes for hundreds of thousands of at-risk children (as) incredibly compelling."
His departure could set off a scramble among senior Democrats for the job of House Appropriations Committee chairman, a powerful position that has major influence on how the state spends billions of dollars in its operating budget. The chairman of the Finance Committee, which sets taxes, may also be leaving. Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, has announced plans to seek a Senate seat if its current occupant, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, wins a seat on the King County Council in November.
Democratic precinct committee officers in suburban King County's 48th District will nominate three possible replacements for Hunter, and the County Council will select a replacement who will serve in the 2016 regular session, and any special session that might be called later this year. The process would be the same for Kohl-Welles with 36th District precinct officers should she win and Carlyle is the senior representative in that Seattle district.