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September 4, 2007

Erik Poulsen to resign Senate seat for new PUD job

Posted by David Postman at 12:35 PM

Sen. Erik Poulsen, a Democrat who has represented West Seattle in the Legislature for nearly 11 years, is resigning his seat to take a job with the Washington Public Utilities Districts Association. Poulsen will be government relations director for the PUD group.

Poulsen had been considering a run for state lands commissioner. But an offer from the PUD association convinced him to leave the world of electoral politics. Poulsen told me:

"It will allow me to keep working on environmental and public power issues that are near and dear to my heart, and enable me to get my two sons through college. I always wanted to go out on top and I feel like I've set the environmental agenda in Olympia for the past several years and put a lot of things in motion."

He said he has grown tired of the "nuts and bolts of campaigning."

Poulsen's pending resignation means an appointment will be made to fill his seat until November 2008. The two Democrats representing the 34th District in the House are Eileen Cody and Joe McDermott. Cody has more seniority. (ADD: The appointment is made by the King County Council from a list of three candidates submitted by the district party organization.)

Poulsen established himself as a voice in utility debates early in his legislative career. His first year in office he worked to stop an effort to deregulate the state's electric utilities. He worked with Republicans in 1997 to prevent what he says now would have been an Enron-style deregulation of Washington's power market. He said:

"That gave me great insight into the value of public power and it something I've been passionate about ever since."

SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS

I'd say Poulsen's biggest accomplishment, though, was the Legislature's bipartisan deal in 2006 to rework how water disputes are handled on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers. The Legislature had been unable to deal with water legislation for more than a decade — with Democrats and Republicans lining up behind environmentalists and farmers in a long-standing stalemate. As Craig Welch reported last year:

In the face of that stalemate, Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-West Seattle, who chairs the Senate committee that deals with water, went to Eastern Washington to fish last summer with Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, Ferry County, and work out a solution.

"We were trying to change the culture of how we work on water in Olympia," Poulsen said.

After months of miscues, Poulsen and Morton this year told environmentalists and farmers to lock themselves away and reach a compromise both sides could live with.

Poulsen is widely credited with guiding that compromise through the Legislature. He said he leaves with one major disappointment. This year he was unable to pass legislation to stop an expansion of gravel mining on Maury Island.

Poulsen has been among the more quotable members of the Legislature. He's also irreverent at times, even using that trait as a political tool. In 2003 he and then-Sen. Aaron Reardon slipped off in Poulsen's SUV to slow down Senate action on a bill so that House Speaker Frank Chopp would have time to work a compromise more to their liking.

Poulsen hopes to raise the profile of the PUDs in Olympia. His hiring does some of that off the bat. He will also hire two contract lobbyists and he said, "I hope to make a big statement with the lobbyists I hire as well."

One of the big issues facing the PUDs is their involvement with high speed Internet service in rural parts of the state. Poulsen says that commercial carriers are not interested in serving small communities, but that the PUDs need legislation to allow them into that business.

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