Sen. Mike Hewitt’s decision to step aside as leader of the Senate Republicans for health reasons is unfortunate for Washington state. The Walla Walla Republican has done an outstanding job the past few years under very difficult circumstances.
It is relatively easy to be minority leader of the Senate (or House) when the majority party has a large advantage and total control. In that situation the minority leader’s job is simply to keep the heat on the majority by essentially criticizing everything that the ruling party does.
But Democrats have had only slim control recently, which forced Democrats to work with Republicans — specifically Hewitt — to get things done. It was Hewitt who forged a partnership with conservative Democrats to come to a final budget agreement this year. It is a practical budget with well-reasoned priorities.
Hewitt, who has been in the Senate a dozen years, does what he believes is best for the entire state, not only the 16th Legislative District that stretches from Prosser to Dayton. Even so, Hewitt has done an excellent job representing the district as he understands his constituents and their needs well.
Given that, it’s very positive for the Walla Walla Valley that Hewitt will remain in the Senate. As we said when we endorsed him for another term last month, Hewitt is not paralyzed by political ideology. He is a pragmatic and thoughtful legislator.
Hewitt is stepping aside now because of recent health problems. In April, Hewitt had a tumor removed from his abdomen. He spent additional time in the hospital because of complications.
Hewitt is now on the mend but he isn’t willing to take on another energy-draining game of high-stakes budget negotiations and other tense issues. He has been leader for eight years, and eight is plenty in that pressure cooker.
Hewitt’s leadership will be missed. He has helped bring the political right and left together.
While Hewitt holds conservative views on fiscal matters, he is willing to put his political capital on the line when he believes a tax increase is necessary.
Hewitt, for example, backed a gas-tax increase a few years back because he felt an upgrade to the state’s roadways was critical to the economic health of Washington. His support was critical to approval. Washington is better for it.
Thankfully, Hewitt will remain in the Senate where his knowledge, experience and people skills will continue to benefit Washington state and the corner of the state he represents.