State Representative Ross Hunter (D‑48th District: Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, Medina, Clyde Hill, the Points communities) will soon be leaving the Legislature to join Jay Inslee’s administration as Director of the Department of Early Learning, the governor’s office announced in a late-morning press release.
“With landmark investments this year, Washington state is poised to be a world leader in early learning,” Inslee said in his statement confirming the appointment. “Ross will ensure that those investments bring returns for our children, making sure every family has access to quality early learning opportunities.”
Hunter, who has served in the House of Representatives for thirteen years, said he was excited to get to work. He will begin on September 8th.
“The opportunity to improve outcomes for hundreds of thousands of at-risk children is incredibly compelling,” Hunter said. “I cannot wait to get started.”
“My first task is to get to know the department’s dedicated staff and connect with the dedicated and passionate stakeholders who have done so much to bring world-class early learning to Washington children.”
While Hunter plans to leave the Legislature, he has not set a date for his departure yet. His resignation will create a vacancy which will likely be filled by the King County Council, as the 48th Legislative District is wholly within the county’s boundaries.
As stipulated in the Washington State Constitution, the Council will be required to choose from among three potential candidates selected by the King County Democratic Central Committee (KCDCC).
In practice, however, the list of names will be drawn up by those members of the KCDCC who serve as Democratic precinct committee officers in the 48th, and then the executive board of KCDCC will affirm the selections. The party traditionally creates a ranked list and then asks the Council to appoint its first choice.
Hunter has published a post to his personal blog where he elaborates on his decision to accept this new position and move on from the Legislature:
I came to the Legislature more than 13 years ago to fix the way we fund education in Washington State.
Towards that end I’ve led the charge to clarify and broaden the definition of “basic education,” successfully reduced K‑3 class sizes, funded all day kindergarten, and provided students with adequate materials and supplies in their classrooms. Clearly there is still work to do on the remaining portions of McCleary, but the end is in sight and the problems (and reasonable solutions) are well understood.
Late last week Governor Inslee asked me to help with another key element of the education continuum and to serve as the Director of the Department of Early Learning. With the passage of the Early Start Act this year the Legislature made an historic investment in high quality opportunities for all of our state’s children. I’m incredibly pleased with the opportunity to have huge positive impact on outcomes for young children. I look forward to leading the implementation of this act and taking DEL in new and exciting directions.
We extend our congratulations to Representative Hunter on his new position with the Department of Early Learning. We know Ross as a dedicated champion for school funding and youth empowerment; we have no doubt DEL will benefit from his talents and enthusiasm. The House’s loss is the Department’s gain.
Representative Hunter is the second member of the House of Representatives that Inslee has tapped to work on education in his administration; he follows in the footsteps of Marcie Maxwell, formerly one of the 41st District’s two state representatives. She now serves as a senior adviser to Inslee on education.
When Marcie resigned last cycle, the, the 41st’s PCOs met in a special nominating caucus and recommended Mercer Island’s Tana Senn as their first choice to fill the vacancy. Senn was subsequently appointed by the King County Council, and had no trouble holding the seat in a tough election year.
The process of replacing Hunter is likely to be just as simple and anxiety-free, which will please Democratic party leaders and activists who want to defend the party’s House majority while also recapturing control of the state Senate in 2016. As it is too late to schedule a special election to fill the vacancy that Hunter’s resignation will create this year, we’ll see a special election held concurrently with next year’s Top Two and general elections, when all positions in the House will be up.
The 48th is a very Democratic district, as evidenced by the results of the last two election cycles. In 2012, first-time candidate Cyrus Habib, a Democrat, defeated Redmond City Councilmember Hank Myers, a Republican, by a more than twenty-point margin. In 2014, when Rodney Tom retired, Habib easily won election to the Senate, while Joan McBride retained Habib’s House seat by a similarly ridiculous margin. Republicans failed to field credible candidates against either.
With Hunter’s departure, Habib will become the senior member of the 48th’s delegation to Olympia. He’s had a remarkable rise, going from freshman Representative to senior lawmaker in less than four years.
Serving in the Legislature is, in many respects, a thankless, tiring job, which is one reason why the institution sees turnover. Representative Ross Hunter has given thirteen years to the House of Representatives. For several of those years, he has been the House Democrats’ chief budget writer, tasked with hammering out compromises with the Republican-controlled Senate.
Having put in so many years of service to the House, Hunter could have moved on and chosen to take a job in the private sector as a way of starting a new challenge. We have no doubt many companies would have been glad to hire him. But instead, he’s remaining in the public sphere and continuing his service as a key leader in Governor Inslee’s administration. That’s good news for Washington State.