Dwight Pelz told Washington state Democratic Party officials Monday that he’s stepping down from his state chairman's role on Feb. 1. In leaving after eight years, Pelz said the state's dominant political party is in good shape, is considered one of the strongest parties in the country and that he wants to travel after having helped to elect Jay Inslee as governor in the last election cycle.
“I think my finest hour was the election of Jay Inslee, a race that many people said we were not going to win. Jay is a tremendous progressive Democrat and he defeated, in my opinion, a very conservative Republican (Rob McKenna) who is trying to masquerade as a moderate,’’ Pelz said in an interview.
In his letter to party vice chair Valerie Brady Rongey, Pelz added: “The mission of the Washington Democratic Party is to elect Democrats, and I am proud to say that we have never lost a major race in my four election cycles – 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012.”
The 62-year-old former state senator and King County Council member had taken over the state party’s leadership in 2006 and – until the defection of two Senate Democrats who formed a majority caucus with Republicans this year - saw Democrats control the state House, Senate and Governor’s Office continuously.
His abrupt announcement means both of Washington’s major parties will be turning over top leadership within the same year. Kirby Wilbur announced on short notice in late July he was leaving the GOP for a Washington, D.C. job that more than doubled his pay. Former television news anchor Susan Hutchison was elected in August to take over as Republican Party chair.
Pelz said he isn’t ruling out a return to politics but also has the travel bug and wants to return to Southeast Asia.
“I’m fortunate to be able to do this. I really do want to be able to travel the world while I’m still moderately young. I don’t rule out a return to political work down the road,’’ Pelz said.
No potential successors have been announced but former state representative Brendan Williams, an Olympia-based lawyer, said he is interested. Williams, who is known for his strong liberal positions, said he also suspects others will want to look into the role.
“Dwight, I thought, combined a progressive values with the role of chair and was able to keep the restive elements within our party reasonably reconciled,” Williams said. “I think that whoever succeeds him needs to have the ability to raise funds – which is something I had demonstrated – but also has to have the right values. I think I have also demonstrated that.’’
Pelz was known for his hard-punching style and not mincing words after Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina and Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch bolted from the Senate caucus this year to form the Senate Majority Coalition. Tom and Sheldon continued to call themselves Democrats but were given leadership positions in the new caucus that hewed closely to a conservative GOP agenda on most issues.
The state Democratic Party passed a resolution in February to censure Tom and Sheldon for “gross disloyalty” and to urge Senate Democratic Caucus “to officially and permanently expel: them from the caucus.
Jim Brunner at The Seattle Times first reported on Pelz’s decision here. Brunner’s account quotes a few choice words the Democrat has had for anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman over the years.
The state party put out a news release on Pelz here.