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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

State House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler announces her retirement

Just after midnight this morning, House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler made public some surprising news: She's decided not to seek reelection.

Kessler, who has been in the House for nearly two decades, is perhaps best known outside of her district as the House leadership's de facto spokesperson; she is quoted more often by the Olympia press corps than Speaker Chopp. Her no-nonsense rebuttals of Republican theatrics became a staple of wire stories about key issues facing lawmakers.

Reporters aren't the only group of people Kessler made friends with during her time in the Legislature. She also cultivated ties with powerful lobbies, as reflected by the source of the $50,000 in campaign contributions she has taken in just this cycle. The list includes Wal-Mart, Vulcan, Premera Blue Cross, Intelius, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, AT&T, Verizon, Boeing, Microsoft, Teck, Sprint Nextel, and the Washington Oil Marketers Association.

Keep in mind, that's a mere sampling of donations. Kessler, Speaker Chopp's top deputy, has so many corporate contributors she doesn't need activist support.

As the second-in-command of the House Democratic caucus, Kessler has a lot of power. So why is she giving that up? Why is she retiring? Well, it turns out, she wants a life. As she put it in her farewell speech on the House floor before the Legislature adjourned sine die: "I’m almost seventy, for God’s sake."

Kessler's decision to retire could potentially put her seat in jeopardy; the district she represents is rural, and Republicans will surely view it as a top pickup opportunity. However, the 24th LD encompasses most of three of Washington's most progressive rural counties (Clallam, Jefferson, and Grays Harbor) and the other two members of its delegation are both Democrats (Kevin Van De Wege and Jim Hargrove). Whether Kessler will be succeeded by someone from her own party or not depends on how strong of a candidate Democrats can field.

One thing is for sure: the Democratic House leadership will look very different when the Legislature convenes for the 2011 regular session next January.

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