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Legislator switches parties

By Jim Feehan

And then there were none.

A decade ago, every state legislator with a district touching the eastern shore of Lake Washington was a Republican. The last remaining Republican, Rep. Fred Jarrett, switched parties Dec. 13.

Jarrett, a House member from the 41st District that includes Newcastle, Mercer Island, Bellevue, the Renton Highlands and a portion of unincorporated King County, also said he's running for the state Senate. One-term Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, announced he would not seek re-election. Weinstein said he never intended to become a career politician and is looking forward to resuming a full-time law career.

In making his decision, Jarrett said the Republican Party has moved too far to the right and is out of touch with suburban voters in his district.

"The basic message is that the Republican Party has shifted away from my values and those of the 41st District and I have not, as an individual legislator, been able to reverse that drift,"

Jarrett said. "I believe I will be more effective representing the 41st in the Democratic Caucus."

Former Newcastle City Councilman John Dulcich said he was disappointed by Jarrett's decision to switch parties. Dulcich said Republicans need more moderate members to effect change in Olympia.

"He has done good things for Newcastle," Dulcich said. "He's worked on education and road funding and that's great. But I certainly don't agree with his reasoning for changing parties. Work to reform the party, if need be."

Forty years ago, Jarrett cut his political teeth working on Dan Evans' first gubernatorial campaign. In the decades since, he served as a Republican precinct committee officer, legislative district chair and legislator.

"I have also been told that this move will cause some to say that I am abandoning the Republican Party," he said. "Yet I am the same person today that I was when first elected to public office in 1979."

Jarrett is in his third term in the House. He has served on the Mercer Island School Board and City Council and as the island's mayor. He's an Air Force veteran and works at Boeing as a project manager in the commercial-airplane division.

Jarrett said he tries to approach issues with an open mind and seek solutions that are in the best interests of his constituents - not what is best for any political party or re-election campaign.

Jarrett voted to raise the gas tax, for gay rights and for increased investments in education. He also supports abortion rights.

"This has meant working to craft legislation that can win support from both sides of the aisle, rather than trying to create campaign issues for the next election," he said.

Jarrett also knew House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, had targeted his district.

Jarrett's move gives Democrats a 63-35 majority in the House - and bolsters power for the party, which also controls the Senate 32-17 and the Governor's Mansion. State Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, is the other house member representing the 41st District. Jarrett's move creates an opening for his House seat.

As a Democrat, Jarrett said he can accomplish more for transportation, education and other important issues.

"Many have told me that this is a politically risky move and that I should be content to stay in my current position where my re-election is more certain," Jarrett said. "But I don't want to be a state legislator simply for the sake of being in office - I want to make a difference."