Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, on Wednesday stepped down as the House minority leader, a position he has held for eight years.
In a statement issued Wednesday morning, DeBolt, 48, cited the need to focus on his recovery from chronic health issues.
He will serve out the rest of his two-year term as a 20th District Representative.
“I’m not leaving the legislature,” DeBolt told The Chronicle on Wednesday. “I’m just stepping down as House minority leader to better manage my time and stress.”
Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, will act as the minority leader until a formal caucus reorganization can take place.
Last Wednesday, DeBolt collapsed in his Chehalis home, and over the last week he has abstained from his duties in Olympia in order to focus on his health. DeBolt experienced similar health problems two years ago and has battled separate ailments over the last decade.
The legislator has declined to answer questions about the specifics of his health issues.
But Joel Kretz, his temporary successor, said DeBolt has suffered from a potassium imbalance and problems with his adrenal glands and kidneys.
“It looks like those things are OK now,” Kretz told The Chronicle. “But until the tests come back, we really don’t know.”
“Doctors orders are no alcohol, no coffee, no stress,” he said, “and that’s exactly what Olympia is.”
In the statement made Wednesday, DeBolt said scaling back his legislative duties is the right decision for his health and for his family.
“Two years ago, my doctor recommended that I step down from my position as leader. I didn’t take that advice and should have. Sometimes people take their health for granted and feel invincible, but then they are confronted with reality. That’s where I find myself today,” DeBolt, who is also the external relations director for TransAlta, said. “It will be hard leaving a job I love and have done for so long, but there comes a time that you must change your priorities in life.”
“It has been a privilege to fight for families across this state in the Legislature,” he said, “but now I get to focus on my own. Tomorrow is my son’s sixteenth birthday and I can’t wait to celebrate with him. And the goal is to celebrate many more with him.”
Elected officials on both sides of the aisle had supportive words for the longtime legislator.
“Richard has been a stalwart leader for his caucus and I thank him for his dedication and work,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “I wish him all the best as he takes time to focus on his family and his health.”
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, also lauded DeBolt’s service as leader.
DeBolt’s “dedication to his caucus, this institution and the state has been unwavering,” Chopp said in a statement.
“I would like to wish Rep. Richard DeBolt a speedy recovery, as he steps down as House minority leader to focus on his health and his family,” Washington State Republican Chairman Kirby Wilbur said. “Rep. DeBolt has been, and will continue to be, an effective advocate for our party and its policies.”
Kretz said he believes DeBolt is making the right decision but is sad to see his best friend have to step down. The intense stress of acting as the Republican leader may have contributed to DeBolt’s illness, according to Kretz.
“Richard is not somebody who really will delegate. He has to have his finger in everything,” Kretz said in an interview. “He can’t stand not to be in the middle of everything. After a while that catches up.
“I think he’s making the right move. I went down to his house and saw the stress off his face. I guess I hadn’t realized its effect until I saw the difference.”
DeBolt was first elected in 1996 and has served in several leadership roles, including House Republican leader, deputy Republican leader, Republican floor leader and assistant Republican whip.
Earlier this session, DeBolt pledged his support for Chehalis River Basin flood relief efforts. Flood Authority Chairwoman Vickie Raines said DeBolt has been instrumental in furthering Chehalis Basin interests in Olympia.
DeBolt lives in Chehalis with his two children and his wife, Amy, a schoolteacher.