OLYMPIA — Fresh off re-election, Democratic Rep. Al O’Brien of Mountlake Terrace has decided his next term in the state Legislature will be his last.
“I’m not going to run again,” O’Brien, a former Seattle cop and Mountlake Terrace councilman said earlier this week.
O’Brien will start his seventh term in January and he said after it ends in 2010 he and his wife will move to Wisconsin to be closer to her family.
“If it was up to me, I would stay around here until they took me out in a box,” he said. “My sweetheart wants us to move so we’ll be better able to care for her parents. They live 40 miles from Green Bay. So I’ll be a Cheesehead, but I will root for the Seahawks when they come here.”
O’Brien, 64, a native of Washington, was first elected to the state Legislature in 1996 and has been re-elected six times. No one opposed him this year nor did he face a challenger in 2006.
He holds Position 1 in the 1st Legislative District representing parts of Snohomish and King counties. Bothell, Woodinville, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and portions of Lynnwood and Edmonds are in the district.
Rep. Mark Ericks, D-Bothell, is his seatmate.
“His constituents got more than their money’s worth from his service,” Ericks said, “It’s not going to be the same without Al. There will be a bit of a void.”
Not having the popular incumbent O’Brien on the ballot creates one legislative seat the Democratic Party must fight to retain in the next election cycle.
That once was formidable but less so because of the success of the district’s Democratic delegation of O’Brien, Ericks and Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell.
“It went from a district where we shook in our boots to where we now have those three Democrats,” said Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who heads up the House Democratic Caucus campaign committee.
O’Brien said he will be giving up his chairmanship of the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee, the panel that handles most of the major crime-fighting bills. House Democrats will select a successor next week.
Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, the panel’s ranking Republican since 2004, said he wished O’Brien would serve at least one more year at the helm.
“He’s been very fair with the gavel. I will be very sad when he leaves,” Pearson said.
Pearson and O’Brien engaged in some ardent philosophical debates on how the state deals with punishment of criminals, particularly sex offenders.
“We worked on some very tough issues,” Pearson said. “We were in the middle of the battles fighting for our parties’ agenda. I consider Al a close personal friend. I will hate to see him go.”
O’Brien, one of a handful of Democrats who oppose abortion, has had a hand in the enactment of most of the major laws dealing with fighting crime and punishing criminals.
But he said the “best piece” of legislation he’s worked on was passage of the 2002 “Safe Haven” law allowing parents to drop off their newborns at a hospital emergency room or fire station. By doing so, parents avoid criminal charges for abandonment.
In his final session, O’Brien said he will focus on helping balance the state budget and improving programs dealing with convicted criminals suffering with a mental illness. He also wants to secure funds for civic facilities in Mountlake Terrace where the City Council chambers has been closed since part of the ceiling collapsed there in July.
“I’ve always tried to look at the big picture and do a good job for the people of my district and the state,” he said.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or email@example.com.