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Rockefeller leaving Senate; Rolfes will seek position

The resignation of Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-23rd District, figures to cause a chain reaction in district politics.

The Bainbridge Island resident resigned his state Senate position on Wednesday, effective June 30, after being appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire as a new member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

“It’s a terrific opportunity to work in a focused way on things that mean a lot to me,” Rockefeller said Thursday. “The balance between energy and fish and wildlife issues for the protection of the environment of the Columbia-Snake River System is something I’ve been interested in for many years.”

His term as a council member will run July 1, 2011 through Jan. 15, 2014. Rockefeller’s second term in the Senate ends after 2012; he served three two-year terms as a 23rd District member of the House of Representatives.

His departure figures to shake things up in the district since Rep. Christine Rolfes, a fellow islander and Democrat, said Wednesday that she will seek the appointment to replace Rockefeller.

Rolfes said she learned of Rockefeller’s decision Tuesday.

He gave me the heads up that something was going to happen,” said Rolfes, a three-term representative who was encouraged by Rockefeller to seek the appointment.

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue serving the district but in a different capacity,” Rolfes said Wednesday.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, a Poulsbo Democrat who also represents the 23rd District in the House, said Thursday that she is not interested in moving to the Senate.

“I’m happy where I am,” she said. “I think it’s a perfect fit for Christine. And it’s a great way for Phil to end his career. I wish him the best of luck.”

Kitsap County Elections Manager Delores Gilmore said the Kitsap County Democratic Central Committee will choose three candidates for Rockefeller’s Senate seat, with the appointment then made by the Board of County Commissioners. Should Rolfes win appointment, the same process will be repeated to appoint her successor in the House.

According to the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office, Rockefeller’s appointed replacement would serve out his term through 2012. The deadline for the 2011 election is June 6.

Rolfes said serving the district “is really rewarding with all the challenges involved, and I love my job.”

But being a member of the Senate, she said, would offer even more opportunities to make a difference.

“There is half the number of senators than representatives in the house,” she said,” so you have greater opportunity to dig into policy issues and have your opinion heard in that chamber.”

Rolfes said working with Appleton and Rockefeller has been rewarding.

“We’ve worked well together and it’s been a great team,” she said. “His departure will be a big loss for our district.”

She said there are a number of “pretenders out there waiting for our demise, some plotting for years. You can quote me on that.”

Rockefeller said he learned earlier this year of the opening for the Western Washington position on the eight-member council, and was encouraged to apply by Gov. Gregoire.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council develops a regional power plan and a fish and wildlife program to balance the Northwest’s energy needs and reduce environmental impacts of power generation.

As chair of the Senate’s Environment Water and Energy Committee, Rockefeller worked to affect water, energy and climate change policy.

“I want to thank the constituents of the 23rd District for giving me the opportunity to serve them for 13 wonderful years,” he said. “I’ll always be grateful to the voters back home who made this possible.”

Two representatives from each of the four Northwest states — Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington — serve by appointment from their governor.

Michael Arnold, chairman of the Kitsap County Democrats Central Committee, said he hated to see Rockefeller leave.

“He’s been tremendous and has been very much involved in energy and conservation, and at the forefront of discussion of those issues. That’s really huge in the Pacific Northwest, with both Puget Sound and Hood Canal in dire straits ecologically.”

— North Kitsap Herald Editor Richard Walker and reporter Tad Sooter also contributed to this report.

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