State Sen. Mike Hewitt, who’s represented Walla Walla County and much of the area outside of the Tri-Cities for 15 years, will not seek re-election this fall.
The Republican announced his decision to not pursue a fifth term Tuesday, saying in a release, “it’s time to step aside and give someone else a chance to do the same.” He will finish his current term, which expires in January 2017.
Other state lawmakers praised Hewitt for his dedication to his district and the Mid-Columbia as a whole and the leadership he has provided for much of his Senate career.
“He was there for me from day one,” said state Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. “Those are going to be some tough shoes to fill.”
Hewitt has lived in the Walla Walla Valley his entire life and was a business owner for 23 years before being elected to represent the 16th Legislative District in the state Senate in 2000. Outside of Walla Walla County, the district includes communities such as Prosser, Benton City, Finley and Dayton.
He served as the Senate’s leading Republican from 2005-12. He then helped form the Majority Coalition Caucus, a bipartisan group of Republicans and two Democrats that has led the Senate since 2013. Some lawmakers have credited that coalition with helping them to address the need for more education spending while keeping the state’s budget in check.
“There wouldn’t be an MCC without Senator Hewitt,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, in a statement provided by the Senate Republican Caucus. “Many important budget reforms, such as the four-year balanced budget law, the reduction of college tuition in Washington and legislation that created the Veterans’ Home in Walla Walla, were due in large part to his hard work, as well as transportation improvements through the 16th district.”
Hewitt serves on the Ways and Means Committee and the Natural Resources and Parks Committee. He also serves on the State Investment Board, the Gambling Commission and the lieutenant governor’s Committee on Economic Development and International Trade.
This summer, he voted for the $16 billion transportation package that provided tens of millions of dollars for projects in the Tri-Cities, including development of the Red Mountain interchange on Interstate 82, the proposed Duportail Street bridge over the Yakima River in Richland and the reconstruction of a rail bridge over Lewis Street in Pasco.
He co-sponsored a bill this past winter that would have made nuclear energy a bigger part of the state’s energy strategy. He also supported legislation in 2014 that would have banned anyone under the age of 18 from commercial tanning facilities, referencing his own six surgeries for skin cancer and how youths need to be educated about the risks.
State Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, said she worked closely with Hewitt during the years and said he was a rising star in his caucus. It was likely a tough decision for him to not seek re-election, but that he’s earned a respite, she said.
“Mike’s a good guy and his heart was in this for a long time,” Walsh said. “I just think he felt he’d like to have a retirement.”
Brown described her fellow senator as a “shining example of what a legislator should be,” acknowledging that you may not always agree with him but he is straightforward, not having a secret agenda and working tirelessly for his district and the Mid-Columbia.
“He looked at it as what’s good for Walla Walla is good for the Tri-Cities,” she said. “He isn’t territorial.”