Spokane’s most powerful state political leader shook the political landscape and shocked her party Thursday when she announced she will not seek another term.
State Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown has represented her central Spokane legislative district since 1992, first in the House and, starting in 1996, the Senate. She has led the Senate for eight years.
She said she returned to Spokane after this year’s legislative session “fully intending to run for reelection” and only changed her mind over the weekend.
“It just hit me that my Legislative career has been fantastic and that it’s time for that chapter to be complete so I can move on to other things,” Brown said. “I really feel like there are other opportunities out there for me. I don’t know exactly what they are – probably in public policy or politics in some form. I feel like the best way to explore that is to take a step back.”
Her decision, only a couple weeks from the candidate filing deadline, took most local Democrats by surprise. Her campaign kickoff was scheduled for May 9.
“I had to sit down when she told me,” said her campaign manager, Lori Kinnear, who learned of Brown’s decision when she called her this morning.
Kris Cejka, chairwoman of the Spokane County Democratic Party said she also learned of Brown’s decision this morning.
“I had no idea,” she said. “There had been no word at all, not even a hint.”
Brown was preparing for her first serious re-election challenge in more than a decade. Republican Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin announced earlier this spring that she would run against Brown.
State Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, announced early this afternoon that he will run for Brown’s seat.
“I’m sorry to lose her as my senator, but just so appreciate her and her service to our community,” said Billig, who said Brown told him of her decision a couple days ago.
Brown said McLaughlin’s challenge did not affect her decision.
“Honestly, I’m quite confident in my ability to keep my seat,” Brown said. “I wasn’t fearful of my re-election prospects.”
McLaughlin said she, too, was “totally surprised” by Brown’s announcement.
“It doesn’t change a thing for us. We still need jobs, not new taxes,” McLaughlin said. She said winning still will be challenge given that the district leans heavily Democratic, but that Brown’s absence could make fundraising easier.
The Democratic majority in the state Senate declined in the last election, and when three members of her party declined to support the Senate Democrats’ budget plan, Republicans successfully wrestled control of the Senate budget.
But Brown said she was satisfied with the final budget deal reached among House and Senate leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire. The outcome made it easier to step down at the end of her term, she said.
“The last few years with the recession have been tough, certainly, and this year it was as well,” Brown said. “But I felt in the end, good about how the budget turned out.”
She is the second female majority leader in the Senate. The first was Republican Jeannette Hayner of Walla Walla, who retired in 1992 and died in 2010.
Spokane voters first elected Brown to the state House in 1992, and she joined the Senate in 1996. In 1993, she touched off a minor debate about working motherhood when she brought her then-toddler son, Lucas, onto the House floor during an evening session when her day care center closed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.