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Retiring Sam Hunt reflects on nearly a quarter-century as a Washington state lawmaker

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(The Center Square) – As this year’s session wound down to its conclusion on Thursday, several state lawmakers indicated they would not be returning next session.

Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, is one of those lawmakers. He announced last month that he will be retiring after his term ends in January 2025. He has served as a state senator since 2017 and before that he served as a state representative in the House from 2001 through 2016.

Hunt, sporting white shoes during sine die at the Legislature, said someone will have to keep up the long tradition in his absence.

“The time has come to move on, let somebody else face the challenges of being a state senator, as I will not seek re-election in 2024,” he said.

He reminisced about the passage of time and what that has meant.

“During my time in the Legislature – 16 years in the House and eight years in the Senate – I’ve seen a lot of changes and worked on many bills that became law, and many of course that did not, including some of my own,” Hunt said.

Hunt’s time in the Legislature extends beyond his tenures as a senator and a representative, having served in the Legislature as a staffer in 1981, when there was only “one mainframe computer.”

“Everything else was typed or handwritten, and each member had bill books, large binders located in the big rectangles,” Hunt reminisced. “If you look behind your desk, that’s what they were for; that had all of the bills in them.”

It was how things were done back then.

“Every night the bill room staff would come in and they would take bills out and put new ones in and even tape or glue amendments onto the bills for legislators in both chambers and numerous staff people,” he recalled. “Quite a job they had.”

Things taken for granted now didn’t exist then.

“TVW, remote participation, nowhere in sight,” Hunt noted. “But we did have a large capitol press corps covering our every move, something that has changed quite a bit.”

The political situation was very different back then, too.

The Republicans took control of the House for the first time in eight years in 1981. They enjoyed a comfortable 56-42 majority. The Democrats maintained control of the Senate by one vote, 25-24.

According to Washington legislative history, the 1981 Legislature was confronted with a fiscal shortfall in excess of $1 billion, and substantial cuts in spending were necessary.

The most consequential event of the 1981 legislative session came on the morning of Friday, Feb. 13, when at a hastily called press conference in the Senate Rules room, Sen. Peter von Reichbauer announced he was switching from the Democrat Party to the Republican Party, delivering the Senate’s tenuous 25-24 majority to Republicans.

Near pandemonium ensued. Democrats were outraged. Republicans were gleeful.

Hunt later worked for Gov. Booth Gardner and the Department of Information Services, which is now the Department of Enterprise Services, before being elected to the House of Representatives.

Other memories loom large as well.

Hunt recalled the 2001 Nisqually earthquake that shut down the session and resulted in lawmakers being moved into on-campus portable buildings.

“In the O’Brien Building we saw ceiling tiles falling and lights blacking out, a rather scary experience,” he said.

Hunt said he’s particularly proud that under his guidance, “We have the most secure, accurate and accessible elections system in the country, and Washington is indeed a model for other states to follow.”

Hunt said passing legislation related to voting by mail, online registration, paid postage and secure ballot drop boxes have helped Washington lead the way.

He singled out legislative assistant Meagan Arndt, who was with him during all 24 years of his time as a lawmaker.

“How she did that, I will never know,” Hunt mused.

He concluded by thanking his family, who were in attendance, and said he’d be thinking of colleagues and friends while he was in sunny Arizona enjoying Seattle Mariners spring training baseball games.

Read the Black Chronicle Black History Edition for Free! Click Below

Read the Black Chronicle Black History Edition for Free! Click Below

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