Change in state Senate opportunity for centrists

By the Tri-City HeraldNovember 27, 2012 

News of state Sen. Mike Hewitt's decision to step down as the Senate's Republican leader came to us with a twinge of sadness and a whole lot of understanding.

It's a position the Walla Walla businessman has held since 2005, and the influence he wielded as one of the state's top Republicans has served Eastern Washington well.

But the demands of leadership coupled with a health scare earlier this year have caused Hewitt to set new priorities. He was just re-elected to his seat and plans to serve the role his constituents sent him to Olympia to do, but leading the charge is no longer where he wants to be.

Senate leadership required more of his time and more travel to represent the caucus. Hewitt, 66, would like to be at home more, and he says he doesn't have the energy he once did.

While successful, surgery to remove a tumor from his abdomen in April took a toll, and complications have put him back in the hospital for a number of days since.

With big changes coming in Olympia as a result of the recent election, the time is right for a new era of leadership, Hewitt said.

It's encouraging to hear Hewitt say he thinks that leadership should come from the center of the bipartisan Senate. That's really the only way anything useful can get accomplished in politics.

A Legislature that's entrenched in partisanship cannot operate in the best interest of our budget-challenged state. Our leadership needs to come together from both sides and meet in the middle to do the difficult work ahead, starting with writing a budget that reflects the values of our state while dealing with another $1 billion deficit.

Hewitt was a key figure in getting three conservative Democrats to cross party lines and give Republicans control of the budget earlier this year.

"I want to promote new Senate leadership from the center. Focusing on centrist policy rather than party labels is what will make the people of Washington a winner," Hewitt said in a prepared statement.

Word that Republicans were considering backing a centrist Democrat as a coalition Senate majority leader added further momentum to the idea that a new kind of thinking is taking hold in Olympia. Republicans are expected to announce a new party leader on Wednesday.

We hope they stick to their guns and install a leader who has the ability to pull our elected officials together, someone with more interest in what's best for Washington than whether a D or an R follows someone's name.

Washington is leading the pack of states in some forward-thinking laws passed in November on marijuana possession and same-sex marriage. Both of those issues will create challenges as the state works to implement the new laws in the weeks ahead, and the nation will be watching.

Washington also could lead the way in taking a bipartisan approach to solving our problems. If that trend ever caught on, it would be truly game changing.

We're glad Hewitt still will be there to represent and offer guidance as the anticipated reform in the Senate takes place.

You've served your party well, senator, and you're entitled to take on a lighter workload. We hope your party follows your lead and moves a little closer to the middle.

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