OLYMPIA — Republican state Sen. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor, an unquestioned conservative with a history of scolding Democrats for expanding the size and scope of government programs without providing enough money to fund them, announced Monday she will leave office at the end of September.
Bailey, who turns 75 next month, plans to step down Sept. 30, ,early 14 months before her current term expires. She informed Gov. Jay Inslee of her decision Friday.
“I’ve always tried to keep my commitments,” she said of her decision to leave office early. “I love my job. I love the state. I love the district. I’ll miss it a lot.
”There were some things in my life that I and my husband were not able to do because of all the time that is required to do this job well,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of things we will be doing.”
Bailey and her husband, Butch, have four grown children and nine grandchildren. Barbara Bailey also has six brothers and sisters who live in the Midwest and Southeast.
Bailey is in her second term in the Senate representing the 10th District which takes in parts of Snohomish and Skagit counties, and all of Island County.
She won her Senate seat in 2012, defeating the incumbent Democrat, Mary Margaret Haugen, in one of the year’s most contentious legislative races.
One of the defining issues that year was Haugen’s casting the 25th vote in support of a law legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
“I would not be casting the deciding vote on a social issue,” Bailey said in the campaign.
Bailey was re-elected in 2016. Prior to the Senate, Bailey served five terms in the House of Representatives.
“I loved every minute. I will miss the opportunity to help shape our government for the benefit of the people,” she said of her career. “It’s been one of the greatest privileges I’ve ever had.
Throughout her tenure, Bailey worked on stabilizing and solidifying the pension for the state’s public workers.
“I was there at the right time to help save our pension system,” she said.
Her arrival in the Senate coincided with Republicans gaining control of the chamber. In December 2012, two dissident Democrats joined the 23 GOP members to form the Majority Coalition Caucus.
In the next five years, Republicans solidified their hold on the Senate and their influence on the policies enacted by the Legislature.
Bailey served as chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee where in 2013 she blocked legislation opening up the state need grant program to college-bound students who arrived in this country illegally as young children with their parents.
In early 2014, she reversed course and helped pass the Real Hope Act or what Democratic senators called the Dream Act.
Her change of heart came shortly after she met with students from her district who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents. They shared stories of their growing up and how they may be unable to realize their dream of attending college because they can’t afford it. Bailey shared stories of her upbringing, too. Tears were shed by students and by Bailey.
“As a little girl in southeast Missouri, barefoot most of the time with not enough money to go to college, who would have thought,” Bailey said at the time. “I’m very blessed. We all are. I want to make sure that all of our students in this state have the same opportunity regardless of who they are.”
Throughout her tenure, Bailey focused on the needs of veterans and issues related to aging and health care. She served on the budget-writing committees in both chambers, providing a voice for fiscal restraint on the expansion of state government.
While serving in the House, she took aim in 2007 at the majority Democrats routine practice of tacking emergency clauses onto bills to pre-empt any chance of the public overturning them with a referendum. She repeatedly offered amendments on the House floor to remove the clauses. Democrats voted them down.
“Senator Bailey wasn’t afraid to get her boots muddy and jump right into the fight on important, and sometimes difficult issues,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said in a statement.
“Year after year she worked on one of the least glamorous committees in Olympia – one that safeguarded all state workers’ retirements. Due in part to all of her hard work, our state has one of the most secure pension systems in the country,” he said. “She will be sorely missed.”
Bailey’s departure ensures this legislative seat will be an electoral battleground in 2020.
Democratic leaders had already targeted it as a potential pick-up and of late began coalescing behind a candidate, Helen Price Johnson, a three-term Island County commissioner who launched a campaign against Bailey on Aug. 1.
“She’s someone a lot of my members are extremely excited about,” said Adam Bartz, executive director of the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, which is the political arm of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
They felt “bullish’ about Price Johnson’s chances against Bailey. Now, Bartz said, “it is a better opportunity for us with an open seat.”
Meanwhile, Republican leaders will begin the process of finding a successor.
Precinct committee officers in the 10th District will gather to nominate three people for the post. Then, the Island and Skagit county commissions and Snohomish County Council will meet jointly to appoint one of those three to the job.
Whoever is appointed will serve out the rest of Bailey’s term.
“I won’t be involved in that process,” Bailey said. “I am excited about what I see as possibilities out there.”