Traipsing through the Cascade Foothills sounds better than pounding the steps of the state Capitol, so state Rep. Christopher Hurst will be waving goodbye to the Legislature.
The seven-term member of the House of Representatives made it official the morning of April 27, issuing a press release announcing he will not seek re-election in the fall.
A short time later, sitting in a small office he maintains in Enumclaw, Hurst said he believes the time is right – that he’s going out while still at the top of his game.
“Things are going as well as they can possibly go,” he said, admitting that additional years in Olympia might not bring the same excitement. It’s better to depart than to become bored with the lawmaking process, he added.
The veteran legislator has spent nearly all his life in the southern corner of King County. He grew up in a rural area not far from Covington – before the building boom transformed the area – and has stayed true to his rural roots. For years, he and his wife April have made Greenwater their home.
It’s the little hamlet of Greenwater that likely will shape the next chapter in Hurst’s life. His wife has been grooming pets in Enumclaw for decades and is ready to set aside the tools of her trade. They have long talked of opening a bed-and-breakfast in Greenwater and it’s a dream, Hurst said, that could be realized in four or five years.
While not playing the role of innkeeper, he said, his days could be filled with hiking the western flank of the Cascade Range.
There may be some short-term opportunities – political consulting, for example – in his immediate future.
But, for now, there’s a legislative term to fulfill. Hurst will occupy his 31st District seat until a new member of the House of Representatives takes the oath of office in January 2017.
In choosing to step aside now, Hurst is following the same path he took as a law enforcement officer. After working with the Tukwila Police Department and spending a year in Alaska, Hurst eventually retired as a commander with the Black Diamond department. He said he retired with “nothing but fond memories,” and figures the same applies to politics.
Hurst lost his first campaign, coming up short in a 1996 legislative bid, but won a House seat in 1998 and was re-elected in 2000. After four years in office he took a four-year sabbatical, successfully running again in 2006; he was returned to Olympia for four more two-year terms.
That adds up to seven terms and 14 years of answering the bell each January.
“Although at times it’s a great deal of work, it has been very rewarding to have an opportunity like this to participate in our form of representative democracy,” Hurst said in his prepared statement.
Hurst has always identified as a Democrat but softened his position a bit when he started running, officially, as an Independent Democrat. He was the first in the state to make that political maneuver, but others have followed – and Hurst anticipates still more will follow the path.
“It’s important to break out of the party structure,” he said. “We need to govern more from the center.”
Preferring a middle-of-the-road approach didn’t make life easier in Olympia, Hurst said, but he believes the efforts of like-minded legislators had a positive impact upon the state’s political process.
“Things are very different in Olympia because of the moderates,” he said.
Hurst has had the opportunity to serve in one of Washington’s true swing districts, where members of either major political party can – and are – elected.
Following his first-time defeat, Hurst has enjoyed campaign success. He quickly points out he has defeated two GOP incumbents and beaten 10 Republican challengers during his time in the Legislature. And, he adds, “I could beat another 10 if I wanted to.”
With several candidates already lined up and waiting to campaign for the coming House vacancy, Hurst is comfortable with his decision to trade Olympia for quieter pastures. There’s such a thing, he said, as serving too long.
“We do not want the Washington state Legislature to resemble Congress, where members remain for so long in office that they become more focused on safeguarding their seat rather than working towards the best public policy,” Hurst said. “Unfortunately, we already have some of those folks in Olympia today.”