Representative Ross Hunter, D-48
Representative Ross Hunter, D-48 (Official legislative portrait)

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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