Colleen O’Brien: Sen. Karen Keiser explains why this is the time to retire

Mar 8, 2024, 8:26 PM | Updated: Mar 9, 2024, 2:33 pm

Image: Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser, who is also the Senate president pro tempore, announced ...

Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser, who is also the Senate president pro tempore, announced in March 2024 that she will retire later this year. (Photo courtesy of Washington Senate Democrats/

(Photo courtesy of Washington Senate Democrats/

Another long-serving Washington lawmaker announced this week she will not run for re-election. Democratic state Sen. Karen Keiser, who represents the 33rd District and is the longest tenured Senate member, is retiring later this year.

Her 29 years of public service are highlighted with efforts around healthcare access, worker protections, and women’s rights. I called Keiser, who is also the Senate president pro tempore, to ask about her decades in public service and why she decided to retire.

The age conversation

We even had the “age conversation” since the 2024 presidential primaries so often focus on the age of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

“I’m not really one to judge, I’m old myself, at this point,” Keiser said with a chuckle. “But I will say that there’s a undercurrent of ageism, which is as much a toxic attitude towards people as any other ‘ism.'”

We’ll get deeper into her answer about the difference between ageism and the conversation that’s appropriate when it comes to Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, but I did appreciate our conversation on her legacy in the Senate. She was appointed to the seat back in 1995 and was reelected six times.

“It was time. It comes to you as a realization that you’ve done what you’ve wanted to do and maybe there should be other chapters in your life,” Keiser said.

Keiser said she’s thinking about writing another book, her second, after publishing “Getting Elected is the Easy Part” in July 2023. It was her “pandemic project” (referencing the COVID-19 pandemic). She wouldn’t go into details about her next book during our conversation.

Last week, her Republican colleague in the state House, J.T. Wilcox, announced he won’t seek reelection after 14 years and one of his reasons is that he believes it’s time for new, younger minds to enter the Capitol dome.

More from Colleen O’Brien: Rep. J.T. Wilcox explains why he’s leaving the legislature

Sen. Karen Keiser looks back proudly at her body of work

While that may not be top of mind for Keiser, she did give a ‘tip of the hat’ to how much progress she has seen in her nearly three decades in Olympia towards a more diverse legislative body.

“I do say that we have a wonderful, wonderful new cohort of young and diverse legislators in our state legislature. When I gave my remarks on the floor on the retirement speech, I referred to Peggy Maxi, who was a Black representative — the first Black woman to be elected to the legislature back in 1971. And she was one of only eight women in the entire legislature at that time.

Today, the legislature is 46% women. So we have really changed the the makeup of members. And the new members have a lot to learn. And I thought when I wrote my little book that I could help guide them a bit,” Keiser added.

Keiser looks back proudly at the work she did on the Paid Family Medical Leave Act that went into effect as the Pandemic hit. She calls it a “lifesaver for families”

“It was set up so that the lower the income the higher the wage replacement so that people could actually pay the rent,” Keiser noted.

Keiser is hopeful about how the state legislature is functioning. Her Republican colleagues might not share that same sentiment, but Keiser was earnest in her assessment of the state legislature when she compared it to how our congressional leaders are handing their differences.

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It’s no secret Wilcox hopes younger lawmakers take his place, and Keiser does acknowledge her age in our conversation about her retirement, so what about the two presidential candidates?

“I think it’s folly to think someone who doesn’t have experience or learning will be able to do as well. But new ideas or important energy and new perspectives, and new representation are all important. So it’s a balancing act. The issue of competence is important. And if you’re competent, it doesn’t matter what age you’re at.” Keiser said.

You can hear more from my conversation with the senator, including the focus of Democrats for future legislative sessions and which instrument she would play if she joined a band in retirement in Friday’s Seattle’s Morning News podcast.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Colleen O’Brien: Sen. Karen Keiser explains why this is the time to retire