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Saturday, November 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State House Republicans stick with DeBolt as their leader

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — House Republicans, still reeling from election losses that relegated their caucus to deep minority status, rehired Rep. Richard DeBolt, of Chehalis, as their leader Friday.

DeBolt retained his leadership post during the House GOP's organizing meeting in Spokane, drawing votes from 21 of the 33 members present.

He will lead a caucus that lost a half-dozen members in this month's elections but promised to be a vocal counterpoint to Olympia's "one-party rule."

"We have to make sure everybody's moving forward," DeBolt said. "We have an opportunity to hold the Democrats accountable for the things that are going on in Washington state."

DeBolt, 41, is a community-relations manager for TransAlta, a Canadian energy company that owns a steam plant in Centralia. He also served a stint as minority leader during the 2004 legislative session.

Doug Ericksen, of Ferndale, was elected as DeBolt's deputy, moving up from his 2006 position as floor leader.

Two other top Republicans — Mike Armstrong, of Wenatchee, and Bruce Chandler, of Granger — challenged DeBolt for the top spot. Chandler was minority leader in 2005, and Armstrong was last session's No. 2 House Republican.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, was unsure of what to expect from the Republican leadership team in the 2007 session.

She noted the DeBolt-led GOP's fiery tactics on the 2006 session's opening day, when the minority tried to bypass protocol and force a vote on a sex-crime bill. The caucus' political committee later issued mailers criticizing Democrats for their positions on sex offenders.

"In 2004, [DeBolt] was really great to work with. I enjoyed working with him," Kessler said. "In 2006, not so much."

Because Democrats have an overwhelming 62-36 majority in the House, they won't technically need Republican votes to accomplish most policy goals. But Kessler said Democratic leaders want to work with DeBolt's caucus.

"Because we have this big majority, we feel an extra responsibility to work with the Republicans and keep them engaged," she said. "I'm hoping he will accept that from us."

The rest of the House GOP leadership team will be Caucus Chairman Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish; Floor Leader David Buri, R-Colfax; Whip Lynn Schindler, R-Spokane Valley; and Assistant Floor Leaders Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside; and Chris Strow, R-Whidbey Island.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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