OLYMPIA — State Sen. Guy Palumbo of Maltby, a moderate Democrat with a voracious appetite for politics and policymaking, resigned Friday to become a lobbyist for Amazon.
His surprising departure comes just past the midpoint of his inaugural term representing the 1st Legislative District, a seat he won in 2016 after years of vigorous pursuit.
“As rewarding as it has been to serve in the Senate, the role I cherish most is being a husband and father. I am returning to the private sector so I can be closer to my home and young family and my small business,” Palumbo said in a statement.
Palumbo cited several accomplishments of which he is most proud, including helping secure additional dollars for transportation improvements in the district which includes most of Mountlake Terrace, all of Brier and Bothell, and north Kirkland.
He also noted with pride the passage of legislation this year to establish a trust account for long-term care, a push for a 100 percent clean energy bill and a boost in higher education funding that will provide tuition-free college for children of low-income families.
“While the work isn’t finished, I feel like I am leaving our district and our state in better shape than when I took office,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, issued a statement praising Palumbo as “a particularly strong advocate on issues related to higher education, transportation, climate and energy.”
“We will miss him in the Senate but definitely understand his reasons for leaving as the job of being a legislator can be difficult to mesh with the realities of families and other professional work,” he said.
I wish @SenatorPalumbo the best of luck. He has been a great legislator and led the way on many important issues from climate change and clean energy to education and transportation. I also appreciate his longtime advocacy on behalf of four-legged Washingtonians. #waleg pic.twitter.com/SwhXQ1zIzf
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) May 24, 2019
Palumbo will be rejoining Seattle-based Amazon, where he worked as a senior manager from 1998 to 2004, and was among the company’s early employees.
Though Palumbo made no mention of his new gig as the firm’s director of public policy for the state, a company spokesman did.
“We look forward to welcoming Guy Palumbo back to Amazon to lead our local advocacy work to help keep Washington a great place to live, invest, innovate and create quality jobs for people from all backgrounds,” said Aaron Toso, an Amazon spokesperson.
He is expected to start work in the next few days, Toso said.
Palumbo is on vacation and did not respond to requests for comment.
His decision ends, at least for now, a political career, the seeds of which were planted in 2012 when he tried to unseat the incumbent senator, Rosemary McAuliffe.
Palumbo, who owns Roscoe’s Ranch dog-boarding business, was a county planning commissioner when he entered the race. He raised a few eyebrows when he filed first as an independent then changed to Democrat. On the campaign trail, his embrace of education reforms and charter schools put him at sharp odds with McAuliffe and the powerful Washington Education Association, which is the statewide teachers’ union.
He finished third in that year’s primary.
When McAuliffe decided not to seek re-election in 2016, he tried again. Palumbo edged former Democratic state representative Luis Moscoso in a fierce primary then beat Republican Mindie Wirth to capture the seat.
His duel with the progressive Moscoso — who had McAuliffe’s endorsement — opened a rift in the party that has never fully closed.
“There will still be people who will never forgive him for 2016,” said Hillary Moralez, chairwoman of the Snohomish County Democratic Party.
Palumbo’s moderate tilt and open support for charter schools riled the party’s progressives who are looking forward to a change.
“Sen. Palumbo’s resignation will change the dynamics of the Washington State Senate Democratic caucus, probably for the better,” said Andrew Villeneuve, founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute.
He lauded Palumbo’s work on advancing environmental protection and climate change laws. But chided him for trying “to divert tax dollars to privately-administered charter schools” and not supporting reforms of the tax system including establishing a capital gains tax.
“His resignation gives the Democratic Party an opportunity to send another champion for progressive tax reform and public schools from the 425 area code to the Washington State Senate,” he said.
By state law, Democratic precinct committee officers in the legislative district will nominate three people to fill the vacant Senate seat. Then, the Snohomish and King county councils will hold a joint meeting to appoint one of those nominees. Whoever is appointed will serve through November 2020.
“I’d really like to see a Snohomish County person take the seat,” Moralez said. “My whole goal is to make sure we get a good strong Democratic voice into the office, whether as a representative or as a senator.”
Two potential hopefuls are the district’s Democratic representatives, Shelley Kloba of Kirkland and Derek Stanford of Bothell.
Reached Friday, Kloba said it was too soon to know if she would seek the appointment. She said she needed to talk with her husband and Stanford.
“I am intrigued by the possibility of what we can get done,” Kloba said. “There’s lots to think about. I haven’t made any decision one way or the other.”
Stanford said Friday he too is thinking about seeking the appointment.
Darshan Rauniyar of Bothell, who ran for the state House in 2016, announced Friday on Twitter he would seek the seat.
“In the event that Representative Stanford or Representative Kloba were to seek the Senate seat and be appointed, we would expect to appoint a new state representative to the House at the same time, consistent with past appointment processes,” King County Council Chairman Rod Dembowski said in a statement.