Washington Legislature poised to get big makeover in 2024 elections. Here’s why.

By: Jeanie Lindsay, Northwest News Network

People running for office in Washington will begin submitting official paperwork next week to get on the ballot – and an unusually high number of state lawmakers say they aren’t running for reelection.

More than a dozen so far have announced that their time as a state legislator is over for now. They’ve cited a variety of reasons for not running: from money problems, a desire for better work-life balance, aspirations for higher office, and even district boundary changes that made some incumbents ineligible.

No matter how this year’s election plays out, lawmakers who plan to return to Olympia say the long list of departures is significant. Many members of the Legislature who are moving on from their current positions hold critical committee or caucus leadership roles.

“The only constant in this place is change,” said Sen. Liz Lovelett (D-Anacortes), who is running for reelection to her current seat. “We have turnover every year, but this year is a watershed moment to be sure.”

Candidates who have already started campaigning to raise money have filed financial information with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. But in order to get on the ballot for the Aug. 6 primary, candidates have to file paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office May 6 – 10.

Republican Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (Goldendale) is one current lawmaker who won’t be participating – she says it’s because of a “perfect storm” of factors. One of those factors: She was drawn out of her district under the state’s chaotic redistricting process.

“I can literally throw a baseball across Highway 97 and hit the 14th [District] that I used to serve,” she said, adding that the redistricting process has been frustrating to witness as it unfolds.

Mosbrucker has plenty of other reasons too — she wants to “take a breath” from the demands of working as a representative to reconnect with her community and spend time with her family.

Lawmakers work full time in Olympia for 60 or 105 days, depending on the year – sometimes longer if the Legislature goes into a special session.

The time demands of the job can also be financially challenging. Rep. Spencer Hutchins (R-Gig Harbor) announced earlier this year that he decided not to run for a second term because, he says, the position made it hard to provide for his family.

Other lawmakers who have decided not to run for reelection include Reps. J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm) and Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), who both held key leadership positions in the Legislature for several years. Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane), as well as Sens. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver), Ann Rivers (R-La Center), and Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) are all leaving too.

A lot of the legislators who aren’t coming back to their positions have said they want to spend more time with their loved ones and work more directly with their communities.

But part of the momentum behind the wave of departures is coming from higher offices.

Multiple lawmakers are hoping to fill positions left vacant by outgoing members of Congress. Others are running for state-level positions that otherwise might not be wide open had Governor Jay Inslee decided to run for reelection this year. Inslee’s announcement that he would not seek an unprecedented fourth term as governor caused a cascade of candidates to announce their own bids for that office or other statewide positions.

The open state Senate seats are also prompting some House members to run for those positions instead, leaving their House seats open for newcomers.

Some in the House and Senate won’t be able to come back to their positions in the Legislature if they commit to bids for other offices. But senators whose terms don’t expire until 2027 could come back if they don’t win the position they’re vying for.

Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), who chairs the Washington State Republican Party, hopes the turnover ushers in a new era of policymaking. He’s planning on running for reelection to his seat in the Legislature this year.

“I think there’s great opportunity in the general shift in Olympia,” Walsh said. “Great opportunity for better policy to come out of the capitol, so I’m actually looking forward to this – I think we’re going to see more moderate people and solutions-oriented people.”

But only time will tell.