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Rossi Returns To the Washington State Senate, for Now

Former Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi, Tlingit, has returned to the state Legislature.

Former Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi, Tlingit, who lost the governor’s race in 2004 by 133 votes and lost a subsequent bid for U.S. Senate, has returned to the state Legislature.

Rossi was appointed by the King County Council on December 5 to the late Sen. Andy Hill’s seat; Hill died from lung cancer on October 31. It’s the second time the King County Council has appointed Rossi to the state Senate. He served four months of Cheryl Pflug’s term in 2012 – she resigned to join a state growth management board – and left office after a new senator was elected.

Rossi will serve until a special election in November 2017; he has said he doesn’t plan to be a candidate. The term ends December 31, 2018.

Rossi, 57, served in the state Senate from 1997 until 2003, ran for governor in 2004 and 2008, and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

Rossi’s regular day gig is managing investor relations and acquisitions for Coast Equity Partners, a real estate investment company specializing in multi-family residential developments.

There are now four Native Americans in the Washington State Legislature, two from each party: Rossi; Democratic Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip Tribes; Democratic Rep. Jeff Morris, Tsimshian; and Republican Rep. Jay Rodne, Bad River Band of Chippewa. Sharlaine LaClair of Lummi and Ronda Metcalf of Sauk-Suiattle, who ran unsuccessfully for the state House of Representatives in November, have said they plan to run again in 2018.

In addition, several Native Americans serve on city councils and school boards. And Maia Bellon, Mescalero Apache, is director of the state Department of Ecology, the first Native American appointed to a cabinet-level position in Washington state.

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There are 29 federally recognized Native Nations in the state of Washington, and Native Americans/Alaska Natives/Native Hawaiians comprise 2.6 percent of the state’s 7.1 million population. That number could be considerably more if including people of Mexican ancestry, many of whom consider themselves indigenous.


The King County Council has two more Senate appointments to make, both Democrats. Pramila Jayapal, D-37th District, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on November 8. Cyrus Habib, D-48th District, was elected lieutenant governor.

The King County Democrats’ nomination appointment caucus took place on December 5 for the 37th District vacancy; another is scheduled for December 8 for the 48th District vacancy. The party will then, after voting by eligible Democratic Party precinct committee officers, “provide an ordered list of three nominees per opening” to the County Council, party chairman Rich Erwin said. “The King County Council will then, in session, interview the three nominees and vote for the final selection.”

That’s the same process the County Council used in appointing a Republican, in this case Rossi, to the Senate position vacated upon Hill’s death. Hill was a Republican. The county party nominated Rossi, Kirkland City Council member Toby Nixon, and past legislative candidate Joel Hussey for the council’s consideration.

Rossi was born and raised in Seattle (his mother was from Klawock in southeast Alaska, The Seattle Times reported in 2008), graduated from Seattle University, and is married and has two daughters and two sons. Like Hill, Rossi chaired the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, which writes the state’s two-year operating budget.

In 2003, as Rossi was gaining notice as a possible candidate for governor, The Seattle Times wrote of his reputation “as a hard-working pragmatist who is willing to listen and work across the political aisle.” Rossi’s budget closed a $2.7 billion budget deficit without raising taxes, the thought being that raising taxes would hurt economic recovery. Rossi’s budget cut spending for children's health, migrant prenatal care, education and other programs, but restored some funding for mental health, programs for the developmentally disabled, and dental, hearing and vision care for residents in need, the Associated Press reported at the time. The budget also raised pay for one-third of teachers. Some legislators told the AP that the budget compelled them “to examine tax loopholes and consider new revenue” so some funding that was cut could be restored.