OLYMPIA -- Continuing reforms to state government will top Mark Schoesler's priority list as the new Senate Republican Leader in Olympia.
Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he believes more efficiencies can be found in how the state operates that could bridge the projected $900 million deficit for the coming 2013-15 biennium.
"This is the first time in recent years we haven't used the word 'billions,' " Schoesler told the Herald. "Isn't it nice to be talking about millions and not billions?"
Senate Republicans this week chose Schoesler to lead their caucus in the wake of an announcement by Sen. Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla that he wouldn't seek the GOP leader job for the coming session.
The party is looking to work with two Democrats to form a working majority and control more of the chamber's activities, and Schoesler said he hopes that'll make for a more moderate, bipartisan legislative body when the Legislature convenes in January.
"What I want to see is a Senate that works well together," he said. "I don't think every committee chairman should have to come from the Space Needle area. That does not reflect all of Washington."
Schoesler has represented the 9th Legislative District since 1992 -- first for six terms in the House of Representatives, then two terms in the Senate. He ran unopposed for a third term in this year's general election.
He has served as the Republican floor leader, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and served as part of the Senate Republican budget negotiating team in 2011-12.
Outside of the Legislature, Schoesler is a dryland wheat farmer, and he has brought that experience to his elected office and been a voice for agriculture in the Legislature.
The 9th District predominantly is rural -- covering six counties in Eastern Washington spanning from Whitman County in the east into Adams and Franklin counties to the west -- and picked up west Pasco in redistricting this year.
Schoesler said he already knows many Pasco leaders from city government, the Pasco Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Pasco, and said he believes the addition of about half of Pasco to his district will fit comfortably with the issues he's already worked on in the 9th District.
Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins said he has worked with Schoesler in Olympia and believes Schoesler and his seatmates, Reps. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, will represent the district well.
"(Schoesler) has always been open and supportive in Olympia. I look forward to working with him," Watkins said.
He also was pleased to hear Schoesler was picked to replace Hewitt as Republican leader in the Senate.
"I think Sen. Schoesler will be a good leader in Olympia. That's good news," Watkins said. "He's got a wide district to represent. Now also in a leadership role, he has to think about the whole state. I wish him well."
Schoesler said in that role as Republican leader, he'll work to ensure his fellow GOP senators are successful in bringing legislation to benefit the state and their districts.
He also plans to continue Hewitt's efforts to promote budget writing that's sustainable and bipartisan without raising taxes and avoid the kind of fiscal gridlock happening in Congress.
"We can do it if we work together," Schoesler said. "I want to continue that and not replay what's going on in the other Washington."