By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 03, 2017
Legislators leave office for a variety of reasons, and the when and how of their exits generally dictates our options for saying farewell. Sometimes an announcement comes during a session, which allows us to respond in person; otherwise it happens later in the year, and that opportunity is lost. We learned during the 2016 session that a few members of our Majority Coalition Caucus would not be with us in 2017, and that number doubled after the Legislature adjourned. Each of them deserves a public tip of the hat.
Senator Don Benton’s close re-election victory in 2012 may not have been the biggest factor in creating the Majority Coalition Caucus, but it was the last piece we needed. His work on protecting property rights and controlling the growth of taxes are well-known; other accomplishments, particularly his efforts on behalf of the homeless and veterans, didn’t get enough recognition. Don served 20 years in the Senate after a term in the House. He had no equal when it came to knowing Senate rules and parliamentary procedure, and that may be what I, as leader, will miss most.
Although Senator Bruce Dammeier was in our caucus for just one four-year term, following two terms in the House, his work on K-12 education did much to put the Legislature on track to comply with the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Bruce also had a gift for translating complex education-policy issues into plain language, and that will be not be easy for us to replace. His leadership potential was evident, and I’m not surprised the people of Pierce County decided to make Bruce their county executive starting today. He will serve them well.
Elected in 2000, Senator Mike Hewitt became Senate Republican leader right after the 2006 election reduced us to 17 seats – a low not seen since 1965. During the next seven years, as the Democratic majority ran up state spending during the real-estate boom and then ran up taxes when the boom went bust, the number of Republican senators steadily climbed until it reached 23 and allowed the formation of the MCC in late 2012. Mike set the leadership bar high, and I appreciated his counsel greatly after succeeding him as Republican leader. Good fishing, my friend.
One of the biggest benefits of forming the MCC was that it enabled Senator Steve Litzow to become chair of the Senate committee on early learning and K-12 education. He was no one’s puppet, which meant education-policy reformers finally had an even chance of having their views considered. The 41st Legislative District has become a “swing” district if there ever was one, and Steve’s loss in the 2016 general election is no reflection on his six years as a senator. Washington’s students and parents should hope the Legislature continues to follow the course he helped to set.
Leading legislative-caucus meetings isn’t easy, with so many personalities in one room, but Senator Linda Evans Parlette did so with grace for 10 straight years, as the Senate Republican Caucus evolved into the MCC. To her, being caucus chair meant looking out for staff as well as members, and made it feel even more like one big family. Linda was a strong voice on health care and natural-resources issues and had enough energy to continue serving much longer – but after 20 years as a legislator (16 in the Senate) her desire to spend more time with her real family won out. Is there a better reason to leave?
Her 2014 re-election to a record seventh term made Senator Pam Roach the longest-serving female senator in Washington history. She will be remembered for many things, and they should include her work on behalf of children and families, and public safety, and defense of the people’s right to initiatives and referenda. As an outdoorsman I appreciated her efforts to introduce legislators to the shooting sports. Anyone familiar with Senator Roach’s devotion to her family knows that while being elected to the Pierce County Council meant giving up the 31st District Senate seat, it offered another chance to serve alongside her son Dan (a former state representative who became a council member in 2011). A fair trade, I think.