By Melissa Santos and Jordan Schrader
Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, announced Wednesday he is stepping down as House minority leader after a health emergency kept him home for a week.
DeBolt will finish the remainder of his two-year term, he said Wednesday, but not as leader of the House Republicans. Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, will step into the leadership role for now, DeBolt said.
DeBolt formally announced his decision Wednesday morning on the House floor.
“I’m not leaving, I’m just changing roles for a while,” he said.
According to a news release from DeBolt’s office, the lawmaker “had a medical emergency in his home” April 10. He has since undergone a series of tests, the results of which are expected this week, the press release said.
In the same press release, DeBolt said a doctor recommended that he step down two years ago. “I didn’t take that advice and should have,” DeBolt said.
DeBolt and his wife Amy have two children, Sophie and Austin. He has served in the House since 1997, representing the 20th district — which now includes Lewis County and parts of Thurston and Cowlitz counties.
Kretz said DeBolt is under treatment for stomach pain but is waiting on the tests to show what is wrong. Previous blood-pressure problems seem to be under control, Kretz said.
He said doctors told DeBolt to avoid stress and unhealthy foods — which seemed to preclude his work as leader. “What’s this place about right now? Pizza, coffee and stress,” Kretz said.
Kretz said the caucus would reorganize but hasn’t yet set a date. It could be after or before the Legislature’s 105-day session concludes April 28, he said.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, told House members that DeBolt always had a way with public speaking, and that he and DeBolt had been through so much together they could co-author a book. Chopp’s office later sent out a formal statement.
“I have worked with Richard for many years and have immense admiration for him,” Chopp’s statement said. “His dedication to his caucus, this institution, and the state has been unwavering. He is a great leader and a good friend.”
“We want to make sure he’s able to maintain his health,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
“No one has a political mind like Richard DeBolt,” said Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, who called him an “outstanding leader.”