Sen. Mark Schoesler is stepping down from his role as leader of Washington state Republicans, but he’s not abandoning the 9th District, which includes Asotin, Garfield and Whitman counties.
On Tuesday, the Ritzville farmer said he plans to continue his 28-years-and-counting career as a state lawmaker with a renewed focus on eastern Washington, his farm and family.
“I just decided that I love my farm, my wife and my grandkids, and I just didn’t have enough time to be the leader and have adequate time for all of the good things in life like farm and family,” Schoesler told the Tribune in a phone interview.
Schoesler, 63, was first elected to the House in 1992, and won an election to the Senate in 2004. Over the past eight years, he has served in Republican leadership roles, first as a majority leader and then as the minority leader, when Democrats regained control of the Senate in 2016.
“One of the realities of being the leader is sometimes you don’t get to do the things you want to do,” Schoesler said. “If the grandkids had a junior rodeo or were exhibiting animals at the fair, I probably had to campaign or do something for the caucus.”
Schoesler said he talked over the role change with his wife of 42 years, Ginger, before informing his colleagues. The announcement was made earlier this week.
The two House representatives from the 9th District said they support Schoesler’s decision and appreciate what he’s done while in office.
“My first thought is that he is an incredible talent,” said Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy. “He brought members of the Senate together to form the coalition caucus and worked to pass bipartisan solutions that benefited the entire state.”
A few of Schoesler’s accomplishments at the helm of the party include reducing tuition, with the support of the coalition, Dye said. He also helped pass a long-term plan to fund road maintenance and improvements.
“He will still be a tremendous resource for our legislature,” Dye said. “And he really does have wonderful grandkids. I don’t blame him a bit, wanting more time.”
Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said Schoesler did a good job of representing both the caucus and the residents of Washington while he was in leadership of the GOP.
The transition prior to the start of the 2021 session doesn’t mean Schoesler is backing off important issues to the 9th District.
“I can still be effective, but I don’t have to be a leader,” Schoesler said. “I can be even more focused on our district than I have been.”
Schoesler said he took his cue from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Spokane, who made a similar decision at the federal level. She has stepped away from some leadership roles to focus more on policy in the 5th Congressional District, which covers eastern Washington, he said.
“Cathy and I have been friends our entire careers,” Schoesler said. “She put the needs of her district in front, and she did an excellent job. Following my friend’s lead, I understand why she did what she did.”
Balancing the needs of the caucus and the 9th District was time-comsuming, the longtime lawmaker said. After missing out on a lot of family and farming because of the commitment, Schoesler said he’s looking forward to getting back to being a rank-and-file lawmaker for the next four years.
“It wasn’t going to get any easier,” he said. “It used to be my goal to make one Little League game a year for my grandson, and I realize that’s a pretty low bar. And when things are busy on the farm, I can leave my guys hanging or the caucus hanging. It’s not a good position to be in.”
Schoesler was easily reelected to another four-year term in November and will continue to represent his constituents. Senate Republicans will elect new leadership this month, according to Olympia officials.
“It’s certainly not the end of my career, and it’s certainly not the end of me representing the 9th District,” Schoesler said.
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