Jeanne Kohl-Welles being interviewed
King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles being interviewed at a press conference to announce the purchase of electric buses (Photo courtesy of Councilmember Kohl-Welles)

Two-term Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber Jeanne Kohl-Welles has decid­ed not to seek reelec­tion and will retire from pub­lic ser­vice at the end of 2023, she announced today in a let­ter to con­stituents and in a press release sent to the media.

Jeanne Kohl-Welles
Coun­cilmem­ber Jeanne Kohl-Welles

“I’ve loved serv­ing on the Coun­cil. I’ve absolute­ly loved it,” Kohl-Welles said in a state­ment and in her let­ter. “But at some point, it’s time to pass the torch for oth­ers to get involved. My entire time in pub­lic office has been immense­ly grat­i­fy­ing; how­ev­er, there’s a time for every­thing and I feel real­ly good about this being the time to move on to some­thing new.”

Kohl-Welles, eighty, was a state leg­is­la­tor before suc­ceed­ing Lar­ry Phillips on the King Coun­ty Coun­cil, rep­re­sent­ing the 4th Dis­trict, a Seat­tle-area district.

A strong advo­cate for social jus­tice, eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty, com­mu­ni­ty resilience, and the arts, Kohl-Welles leaves behind a rich lega­cy as a law­mak­er at mul­ti­ple lev­els of gov­ern­ment. She is known for her acces­si­bil­i­ty as an elect­ed offi­cial, for a firm grasp of the issues, and for being an ear­ly adopter of wor­thy causes.

It came as no sur­prise last year, for instance, when Kohl-Welles enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly backed our pro­pos­al to move King Coun­ty’s coun­ty lev­el posi­tions to even-year elec­tions. We knew we could count on her. She did­n’t just vote for the pro­pos­al, either. She donat­ed to the cam­paign to help pass it and came to the cam­paign’s house par­ty last Sep­tem­ber. Coun­cilmem­ber Kohl-Welles walks her talk.

“I want to con­grat­u­late Coun­cilmem­ber Jeanne Kohl-Welles for more than thir­ty years of ser­vice rep­re­sent­ing her com­mu­ni­ty in the state House, Sen­ate, and the King Coun­ty Coun­cil. Since our time togeth­er in the Sen­ate, I’ve enjoyed work­ing along­side Jeanne,” said King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dow Constantine.

“She has been a tire­less advo­cate for work­ing fam­i­lies, vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, arts and cul­ture, work­place safe­ty, and the peo­ple of King Coun­ty. I am espe­cial­ly grate­ful for Jeanne’s lead­er­ship as Bud­get Chair in 2020 and 2021 as we worked to address the eco­nom­ic chal­lenges brought on by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. I wish her and her fam­i­ly all the best in this next chap­ter of their lives.”

Here’s Kohl-Welles’ let­ter to her con­stituents:

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

After serv­ing you in elect­ed office for 30 years, it is with mixed emo­tions that I share with you that I will not be run­ning for re-elec­tion this fall and that I will be retir­ing at the end of this year.

Rep­re­sent­ing my con­stituents – first in the 36th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict in the State House and Sen­ate, and more recent­ly in Dis­trict Four on the King Coun­ty Coun­cil – has been the priv­i­lege and hon­or of my life­time, and I am incred­i­bly grate­ful for the part­ner­ship, sup­port, and trust that you all have offered me over the years.

This deci­sion did not come to me light­ly. I have thor­ough­ly enjoyed serv­ing the pub­lic, those resid­ing in my dis­trict but also more broad­ly through­out King Coun­ty and the state.

It has been par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to me to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly in strength­en­ing pro­tec­tions for the most vul­ner­a­ble and mar­gin­al­ized in our com­mu­ni­ties, espe­cial­ly as income inequal­i­ty, dis­place­ment, and home­less­ness have increased, as cli­mate change has become increas­ing­ly threat­en­ing to us all, and as gun vio­lence has become more frequent.

As long as I have held elec­tive office, I have worked to pro­vide access to afford­able, equi­table and qual­i­ty hous­ing, child care, edu­ca­tion, health care and a safe and secure life for all.

And so impor­tant to me has been increas­ing access to arts, cul­ture, her­itage, and sci­ence pro­grams and events, as well as an urgency in work­ing on cli­mate change and its effects on every­thing we all hold dear — our peo­ple, our envi­ron­ment, our nat­ur­al resources, our soci­ety, and our planet!

I’ve also cher­ished work­ing along­side so many tal­ent­ed, intel­li­gent, and ded­i­cat­ed peo­ple and in bal­anc­ing mul­ti­ple, some­times con­flict­ing, inter­ests in the pur­suit of bet­ter pub­lic pol­i­cy for all of us. I will miss the work might­i­ly, but most­ly the peo­ple and the com­mu­ni­ties in my district.

While I will enjoy find­ing more time for fam­i­ly and friends and for return­ing to my writ­ing, I do know it will be chal­leng­ing to shift gears after work­ing so long with so many fan­tas­tic peo­ple and on so many chal­leng­ing issues in the pur­suit of the com­mon good.

After 30 years, there are many lessons I’ve learned, but per­haps the most impor­tant is that there is always anoth­er side to the sto­ry. Some­times, an issue is pre­sent­ed in a way that makes it appear the solu­tion is sim­ple. It rarely is.

Just as we are mul­ti-faceted as indi­vid­u­als, the ways we expe­ri­ence and are impact­ed by social issues are, too.

That is why it’s been vital to me to bring as many voic­es into pol­i­cy­mak­ing as pos­si­ble – those with dif­fer­ent back­grounds and expe­ri­ences can pro­vide a more com­plete pic­ture of the issues we face. In fact, I have found it essen­tial to lis­ten to dif­fer­ent voic­es and to craft solu­tions that take all angles into account.

Tru­ly well thought out leg­isla­tive advances serve the com­mu­ni­ty and bet­ter stand the test of time. After work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly, we’re more like­ly to reach equi­table, effec­tive and sus­tain­able outcomes.

While I look for­ward to the next chap­ter of my life, I also look back fond­ly on all I have done and all those with whom I have worked along­side. I feel blessed by my career, for­tu­nate to be part of such a won­der­ful com­mu­ni­ty and a par­tic­i­pant in craft­ing need­ed pub­lic pol­i­cy and social change.

And we’ve accom­plished a lot over the past sev­en years (and in the pre­vi­ous 23 in the Leg­is­la­ture), so check out an abbre­vi­at­ed list of Coun­cil accom­plish­ments below.

But, with near­ly a year to go, my work is not done yet and I am eager to fin­ish strong! So, stick around for more infor­ma­tive e‑news edi­tions and oth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tions from my office this year, and expect to see some excit­ing leg­is­la­tion and oth­er projects before I leave at the end of Decem­ber. As always, please reach out to me or my exem­plary staff with any of your ques­tions, con­cerns, or ideas.

Last­ly, pol­i­tics is – in every sense of the term – a pub­lic endeav­or, and this is how I’ve approached it my whole career.

Not only could my work not have exist­ed with­out that amaz­ing staff I just men­tioned, it def­i­nite­ly could not have exist­ed with­out the tire­less work of count­less oth­ers, includ­ing those work­ing in advo­ca­cy groups and non­prof­its, jour­nal­ists, com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers, com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions, union mem­bers, pol­i­cy ana­lysts, aca­d­e­mics, busi­ness own­ers, con­cerned cit­i­zens, and yes, lobbyists.

Our form of democ­ra­cy is messy, some­times chaot­ic, and ulti­mate­ly beau­ti­ful. It’s best when it’s open, vis­i­ble, and built on rela­tion­ships and dia­logue. Per­haps it’s the soci­ol­o­gist in me that leads me to love the pub­lic aspects of the work as much as I do, but I think we can all agree that at the core of our gov­er­nance exper­i­ment is a dynam­ic, col­or­ful, beat­ing heart. Thank you all for accom­pa­ny­ing me on this journey.



The Coun­cilmem­ber’s retire­ment press release also fit­ting­ly includes trib­utes from all eight of her Coun­cil col­leagues, Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can alike.

Fel­low Coun­cilmem­ber Joe McDer­mott has also announced his retirement.

The oth­er two coun­cilmem­bers up this year, Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci and Gir­may Zahi­lay, are seek­ing reelec­tion. They will be run­ning for three-year terms, owing to the pas­sage of King Coun­ty Char­ter Amend­ment 1, which they part­nered with us to bring to fruition. Char­ter Amend­ment 1 received a 69% yes vote from the voters.

Our con­grat­u­la­tions and thanks to Coun­cilmem­ber Kohl-Welles. We deeply appre­ci­ate her ser­vice and wish her the best as she com­pletes her time in office.

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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