By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Rep. Dan Kristiansen of Snohomish spent the past seven years herding Republican colleagues from the House floor into their caucus room to map out political strategies.
Now, he will lead them onto the floor and into the legislative battles where they hope to carry out those strategies.
On Saturday, in a decisive manner, Republicans elected Kristiansen to a two-year term as House minority leader. He faced no rivals in the contest to succeed Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, who stepped down April 17 because of health issues.
“I am honored with the fact that they want me to do it,” said Kristiansen, who had been caucus chairman.
Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, spent 10 years as Kristiansen’s seatmate in the House before winning a Senate seat last year.
He described Kristiansen as honest and fair, not flashy and respectful of House decorum.
“I think Dan deserves it,” Pearson said.
As minority leader, Kristiansen will sit alongside the speaker of the House, the Democratic, Republican and majority coalition leaders of the Senate, and the governor. Together they will conduct critical conversations in the coming special session.
“It puts me in the middle of the negotiations not only on the operating budget but also on transportation issues and other issues,” he said. “I’ll be very much involved in the end game on a lot of those decisions that are being made.”
The position also makes Kristiansen the region’s highest ranking member of the Legislature. This could bode well in general for Snohomish County, and specifically for constituents in his 39th Legislative District which encompasses communities in east Snohomish and Skagit counties.
He sought to tamp down expectations of what he can deliver.
“What does it mean?” he said. “It probably gives me a little more leverage on some of the big issues that are not only important to my district but are important to a lot of people.”
Several of the Democratic lawmakers from Snohomish County said they are curious to see how Kristiansen operates from this new perch of power.
Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, said it should at least “give further clout” to the efforts of the Snohomish County legislative delegation to take care of the needs of the county.
Kristiansen, 50, is married and a father of three children. He views policies and politics through a conservative prism.
He first ran for office in 2000 when former state Sen. Val Stevens and Rep. John Koster, both Republicans, drafted him to challenge Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee. Kristiansen lost in a close race.
Two years later, redistricting created a district that had boundaries more favorable for Republicans and an open seat as Dunshee found his home drawn into a different district.
Kristiansen ran again, won handily and has been re-elected five times since. He’s steadily increased his fundraising totals, enabling him to kick larger sums back to the political arm of the House Republican caucus each election cycle.
He sent $50,000 of his surplus campaign funds to the House Republican Organizational Committee in August, according to Public Disclosure Commission records. Two years earlier he transferred $40,000 from the account to HROC.
As House Minority Leader his responsibilities also extend to the campaign trail where he is expected to raise money for the caucus and recruit candidates throughout the state.
Ultimately, his performance will be judged in part on the 2014 election cycle and how well he can protect incumbents while swelling the ranks of the caucus so it might one day become the majority and he the speaker of the House.
In Olympia, Kristiansen isn’t expected to change the philosophical tilt of the caucus, which is why DeBolt and other leaders sought him out for the job.
Republicans will still oppose Democrats’ attempt to generate $1.2 billion for spending on public schools by extending expiring taxes and eliminating tax breaks. And he’s equally set against House Democrats’ proposal for increasing the gas tax and vehicle fees to pay for billions of dollars in transportation projects.
He does figure to bring a different style.
“My plan is to utilize the talents of probably a larger number of people in our caucus in areas where they maybe haven’t been as active,” he said. “I try to put the best teams together that I can.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.