Lead state Senate budget writer will leave Legislature for local government

Sen. Christine Rolfes’ move to the Kitsap County Commission will mean a new Senate Ways & Means chair in the next session.

By: - June 5, 2023 2:41 pm

State Sen. Christine Rolfes in February 2020 at the state Capitol in Olympia. (Legislative Support Services)

The top lawmaker on the state Senate’s main budget-writing committee will be leaving behind the Legislature for a local political post on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, a Democrat, on Monday won an appointment to a seat on the three-member Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, after the other board members voted to select her. She’ll replace former District 1 Commissioner Rob Gelder, who left office last month, after serving 12 years, to take a job as assistant county manager for Thurston County.

“I’m really excited,” Rolfes told the Standard on Monday. “But it’s bittersweet because I love serving in the Senate.” Rolfes has been a member of the state Legislature for about 16 years, in the Senate since 2011 and in the House before that. She’s chaired Ways & Means since 2018.

Rolfes said that she hopes to be sworn in as a commissioner on June 20 and plans to step down from the Legislature sometime later in the summer. That would trigger an appointment process to fill her legislative seat through the remainder of her term, which runs through Jan. 13, 2025. It also means a new Democrat at the helm of Senate Ways & Means in the next session.

Asked for her thoughts on who could take the Ways & Means post, Rolfes said vice chair Sen. June Robinson is one possibility. “I would think she’s a strong contender for it,” Rolfes said. But she added: “There’ll likely be other members who are interested.” Rolfes is also on the natural resources committee.

“There’ll be some reshuffling,” of committee assignments she noted. That’s a process the Senate Democratic caucus will carry out.

Applying for the county commission, Rolfes said, was a way to “kind of come back home.” She pointed out that her first job after graduate school was with Kitsap County’s planning department.

“There’s nothing about the Senate that triggered me leaving other than that it’s good to let somebody else come in. It’s not our job for life,” Rolfes added.

The appointment of Rolfes’ successor would require Democratic precinct committee officers for the 23rd District to nominate three people for the spot. The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners (which Rolfes would likely then be serving on) would then select someone from that slate of candidates to finish out the term. There would be an election for the seat in 2024.

In the new job, Rolfes says she expects to tackle issues in some of the same areas she’s focused on as a senator, like the environment and housing, but at the local level.

“That’s what makes the job really interesting,” she said.

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Bill Lucia
Bill Lucia

Bill Lucia is the Standard’s editor-in-chief. He’s covered state and local policy and politics for a decade, nationwide for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and in Seattle for Crosscut.