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Originally published March 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 11, 2008 at 11:46 PM

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State Rep. Helen Sommers to retire

Rep. Helen Sommers, a Seattle Democrat who's served in the Legislature for 36 years, plans to step down this year.

Seattle Times staff writer

OLYMPIA — State Rep. Helen Sommers — the state's long-serving legislator — is retiring.

For months, Sommers had fended off such rumors, saying she would make up her mind sometime after the Legislature adjourned on Thursday. But word got out this afternoon when the Capitol lobbyist corps began handing out invitations to a retirement party for Sommers and seven other House members who are stepping down.

"They squeezed it out of me," Sommers said. "I just wanted to move away quietly without any fuss."

For 36 years, Sommers has represented Seattle's 36th Legislative District. For the past decade, as chairwoman or co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, she has played a pivotal role in writing the state budget. She waited until after the final deals were reached on this year's budget negotiations before confirming her plans to retire.

"It's been a fabulous experience," Sommers said.

Sommers, 75, stirred rumors about her retirement plans last fall when she began returning some checks from campaign donors.

Though she would not confirm anything publicly before today, two prominent Democrats already have begun jockeying for her seat: Reuven Carlyle, a former legislative aide who has spent most of his career in the wireless and software industries, and John Burbank, executive director of the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute, a liberal public-policy think tank.

Sommers is planning to travel to Finland and Russia later this year but said she is not sure yet whether she will try to play any official roles for the state.

"What am I going to do? I'm going to take it easy," Sommers said.

The other House members who are retiring this year are Reps. Bill Eickmeyer, D-Belfair; Bill Fromhold, D-Vancouver; Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor; Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup; Jim McIntire, D-Seattle; Lynn Schindler, R-Spokane Valley; and Bob Sump, R-Republic.

McIntire is leaving the Legislature to run for state treasurer.

Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or rthomas@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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