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Parlette to say farewell to Legislature after 20 years

 

WENATCHEE - The longtime state legislator who made it possible to build a new school complex in Coulee Dam has announced her decision to retire.

Sen. Linda Evans Parlette announced Monday that she intends to bring her legislative career to a close after 20 years of service to the 12th Legislative District. Parlette plans to step away when her fourth Senate term ends in early 2017.

"My mom will be 90 in June. The legislative schedule does not allow me to spend as much time as I want with her or my husband Bob and the rest of our family. It's that simple. And 20 years is a nice round number," said Parlette, R-Wenatchee.

While she knew some were speculating about her re-election plans, Parlette did not want an announcement made during the 2016 session to influence the progress of the important legislation she had introduced. Parlette chose Monday to disclose her plans publicly because it was on April 11, 1996, that she announced her candidacy for the House position she won later that year.

"Although my decision about not running for a fifth Senate term was made during the winter holidays, I wanted to wait until after this year's session to share it publicly. I recognize that April 11 means something only to me, but either way, it is an appropriate time to make this announcement."

Parlette was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996 and served a pair of two-year terms. She won election to the Senate in 2000, succeeding the retiring George Sellar, and voters sent her back to Olympia for three more terms. In addition to being the first woman to serve as 12th District senator, Parlette is second only to Sellar in years of service as the district's state senator.

"Being able to represent the people of our beautiful district – the more than 100,000 people in Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties who placed their trust in me for 20 years – has been an absolute honor. I will always be grateful that they allowed me to serve them," Parlette said.

Parlette said her decision to step away was made easier by the fact that the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) she chairs has firmly established itself as the leader of the Senate. As someone who generally prefers to ignore partisan labels when developing legislation and pursuing agreements, Parlette says, she has appreciated the bipartisan coalition's approach to governing and the end of one-party control in Olympia.

"The formation of a bipartisan governing Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate was a historic achievement and I'm proud to have served our caucus in a leadership role," Parlette said. "There's no debating that our coalition has reset the Legislature's priorities for the better."

Among the accomplishments that eased her decision, Parlette cited an "extraordinary improvement in funding" for public schools, lower tuition rates and state-run colleges and the preservation of charter schools.

She said mental health issues are being addressed like never before, a new set of transportation improvements has been approved and state agencies are being held accountable for the decisions they make and the tax dollars they spend.

Parlette has chaired her Senate caucus for 10 consecutive years - a record for a Republican.

"It is remarkable what our coalition has accomplished in just four years. I will definitely be leaving the MCC on a high note, knowing more good is to come."

A fourth-generation resident of north central Washington, Parlette grew up in Chelan, where her mother still resides. After working as a waitress to put herself through Washington State University's pharmacy program, she began a career as a registered pharmacist and later took on a second occupation, as an orchardist.

Parlette said she is especially proud of her work to restore Beebe Springs, adjacent to the Chelan Fish Hatchery, and - when federal support was lacking to replace the Grand Coulee Dam School District's worn-out schools - working in Olympia and with community leaders to secure funding for the new Lake Roosevelt K-12 school. It opened in 2014.

During her tenure in the Legislature, Parlette saw 63 of the bills she introduced become law. Among the highlights were legislation to reduce the state's debt limit; expand the role of pharmacists in medical teams; improve coordination, transparency and accountability among state landholding agencies; and ensure that habitat for salmon and steelhead is plentiful on the Upper Columbia River and "selective fisheries" are possible. She also worked tirelessly at the federal level to advocate for reestablishing the "Road to Cottonwood" in the North Cascades National Park. This work will continue, Parlette said.

Her public-service career began as chair of the Lake Chelan School District board and a member of the North Central Educational Service District board.

Parlette said her priorities and style as a lawmaker have been drawn from her personal experience. It helps to explain why she has spent her entire career at the Capitol serving as a member of the health care and budget committees, and many years on committees that address natural-resource matters.

"My focus on water access, agriculture, natural resources, outdoor recreation and wildfire management comes from having deep roots in this part of the state – for me it 'goes with the territory,' as they say. My interest in health care and mental health comes from being the only pharmacist in the Legislature and knowing people with behavioral-health concerns. And as a waitress I learned to appreciate every nickel and dime and the importance of putting them to proper use," Parlette said.

"Being a waitress and a pharmacist also taught me about serving people – the hungry, and the sick. That's important because my work as a legislator is also about service," she said. "You can't separate politics from the legislative process, but I have found the best solutions tend to come from working across party lines, and serving my constituents means pursuing the best solutions."

Her 20 years of legislative service to the 12th District match the record of former Speaker of the House Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, who stepped down after the 2003 session; the two are surpassed only by Sellar's 29 years in the Senate.

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