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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: For some legislators, time has come to retire or run for something else

The Senate convenes for a floor vote on in March in Olympia.  (Lauren Rendahl / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Camden For The Spokesman-Review

There is a time, as Ecclesiastes and the Byrds tell us, for everything under the sun.

A time to kill or heal; to build up or tear down; to be born or die; to weep or laugh; to mourn or dance; to love or hate; for war or peace.

Considering the announcements from some of the state’s most veteran politicians in the early months of 2024, one might add on more oppositional pairing to Scripture and the Pete Seeger song:

“A time to run and a time to step down.”

Years divisible by four are the high tide of political activity in Washington. Along with a presidential election, the state also must elect a governor and eight other statewide executive offices, plus three state Supreme Court justices, half the state Senate, all the state House, 10 members of the U.S. House and, in two quadrennials out of three, a U.S. senator.

A growing number of open seats means 2024 could be more like a tidal wave. On the state level, three-term Gov. Jay Inslee is retiring, and three-term Attorney General Bob Ferguson is among those running for the top job. Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz initially planned to run for governor but switched instead to a congressional race for a seat being vacated by Democrat Derek Kilmer, which also has attracted at least two veteran legislators. Ferguson’s and Franz’s decisions to run for different offices, and six-term Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s decision to retire, is tripping other dominoes as members of the Legislature who want to move up will have to move out because in Washington a person can’t run for two offices on the same ballot.

In Eastern Washington, 10-term U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ decision to retire has inspired at least a dozen would-be congresspersons to announce plans to replace her, including state Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, who will have to leave her Northeast Washington’s 7th legislative district seat vacant to do so.

Maycumber’s seatmate, Rep. Joel Kretz, announced at the end of the session that his ninth term will be his last. Maycumber is the House Republican floor leader, and Kretz is the former deputy minority leader, so the 7th will have a significant loss of clout and experience in the 2025 session.

For legislators, the time to step down is often at the end of the session in a year when they’d have to run for re-election.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig announced a few days before the end of this past session that he wouldn’t run for re-election, prompting fellow Democrat Marcus Riccelli to announce he’d run for the Senate rather than for re-election to the House, spurring interest in his seat from others in the solidly blue central Spokane district.

Also announcing their departures in the closing days of the session were Sens. Sam Hunt of Olympia, the longtime chairman of the Senate State Government Committee; Karen Keiser of Des Moines, longtime chairwoman of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee; and Lynda Wilson of Vancouver, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Shortly after the session, Sen. Ann Rivers, of Longview, the leading Republican on the Health and Long Term Care Committee – and possibly the most knowledgeable person on marijuana law in the Legislature – announced she, too, was retiring.

Also in the days after the session, the Spokane area’s longest-serving and most experienced legislator, Sen. Mike Padden, announced he wouldn’t run again. First elected in 1980 to the House, where he served 14 years, Padden served as a District Court judge for 11 years and was elected to the Senate in 2011.

Padden said recently he decided to wait to announce his retirement until after legislators went home and skip the farewell floor speeches in which “everybody says wonderful things about you.”

The Spokane Valley lawyer and lawmaker was among the first sitting legislators I had the chance to question as the newspaper’s recently named political reporter in the summer of 1984. At a press conference to announce a campaign for a third term, he seemed the quintessential Eastern Washington Republican. He talked about new tougher sentencing guidelines and a new law requiring medical attention for aborted fetuses that were born alive – he’d helped pass laws for both – along with lower taxes and smaller state government. The latter included an idea that seemed heretical to many in Spokane, closing many regional state offices.

Those were some of the touchstones of his decades in the Legislature – be tough on crime, cut taxes or at least fight tax increases, shrink government, oppose abortion.

I later learned that Padden would make the perfect Final Jeopardy answer, if the question were “Who was the first member of the Electoral College to cast a ballot for Ronald Reagan.” As one of the state’s GOP electors for the 1976 election when the state went for Gerald Ford, Padden voted for Reagan. “I was just ahead of my time,” he often said.

Padden said one of the biggest lessons from his decades in politics was that, regardless of the issue or the proposal, “it’s good not to burn bridges.” Success in the Legislature is based on relationships, he said.

Although in the minority, his last two years in the Senate were relatively successful, with several bills he prime-sponsored passing, including tougher penalties for sexual misconduct of persons in custody by jailers, guards or law enforcement officers; changes to rules for multi-unit housing and a sales tax exemption for certain products used in rehabilitation.

One of his last successes was a bill to help improve habitat for bees and other pollinators, a request from a constituent who was a Girl Scout working on a project to improve her community. All had Democratic co-sponsors. Good ideas sometimes come from constituents, he said.

The retirement creates two openings, as state Rep. Leonard Christian is among those announcing plans to run for the Senate.

For Padden, the time came to spend more time with his family and indulging a passion for baseball a bit more. With filing week starting in 21 days, for those with thoughts about doing something about state government, the time has come to do more than just think about it.