Home » Derek Kilmer, moderate Democratic congressman from Washington state, announces retirement

Derek Kilmer, moderate Democratic congressman from Washington state, announces retirement

Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer unexpectedly announced Thursday that he wouldn’t seek a seventh term representing Washington’s 6th Congressional District. This constituency, which is based in the Olympic Peninsula and Tacoma, supported Joe Biden 57-40, and Democrats are favored to keep it. It’s possible, though, that the party will need to be on guard going into the August top-two primary to make sure a pair of Republicans don’t advance to the general election.

Both Inside Elections’ Erin Covey and the Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner quickly relayed speculation that one prominent Democrat, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, could end her campaign for governor and instead run to replace Kilmer.

Democratic state Sen. Emily Randall, meanwhile, confirmed she was considering her own bid. Randall’s 2018 election made her one of the first two lesbians to serve in the state Senate, and she’d be the state’s first LGBTQ+ member of Congress.

Covey also mentioned the following fellow Democrats as possible contenders:

  • State House Speaker Laurie Jinkins

  • Pierce County Councilmember Ryan Mello

  • Kitsap County Commissioner Christine Rolfes

  • Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards

On the GOP side, state Sen. Drew MacEwen wrote on social media he’ll decide “very soon.”

Kilmer won elected office for the first time in 2004 when he unseated Republican state Rep. Lois McMahan 50-48 in a tight race for the state House. This would turn out to be the only close contest of his career. Kilmer won a promotion to the state Senate two years later 60-40, and he turned in a similar performance in the 2010 red wave in what Roll Call described as the most conservative Democratic-held seat in the chamber.

Kilmer got the opportunity to run for Congress in 2012 when longtime Rep. Norm Dicks retired. Several Democrats initially showed interest in running, but Kilmer, who called the incumbent a mentor, quickly became the favorite and scared off any serious opposition. Kilmer won the general election 59-41 as Barack Obama was carrying the district 56-41, and he easily held it for the rest of his career. The congressman became a leader in the moderate New Democrat Coalition, though he compiled a mainstream record and never attracted a serious challenge from the left.

Kilmer’s ascent, however, did result in some problems for his party back in the state Senate. Democrats appointed Nathan Schlicher to succeed him, but Schlicher faced an uphill 2013 special election to keep the seat against Republican state Rep. Jan Angel. Angel won 52-48, an outcome that made it more difficult for Democrats to retake the chamber from a coalition of Republicans and two renegade conservative Democrats. That state of affairs would continue until Democrat Manka Dhingra flipped a crucial seat elsewhere in the state in a 2017 special, while Randall would replace the retiring Angel the following year.

This story has been updated with new comments from state Sens. Emily Randall and Drew MacEwen​​​​​​​

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November 2023