Washington Sen. Ann Rivers says she’s resigning, cites partisanship

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
Oct. 4, 2021 11:19 p.m. Updated: Oct. 4, 2021 11:32 p.m.

The Republican from La Center has weathered a few particularly stormy years, she said, battling challenges from Republicans and operating in a Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Less than a year after winning re-election, Washington Republican Sen. Ann Rivers announced Monday she’s leaving the state Senate. In fact, she said she’s glad to leave politics behind.

“I’m anxious to get to work in a nonpartisan environment where we can just really focus on solving problems and moving the ball forward,” said Rivers, of La Center, in an interview.


Rivers, who has represented the 18th District since 2010, has recently weathered a few particularly stormy years. Her relationship with her local Republican Party has strained. And she lamented Democrat control in Olympia.

Washington state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, has announced she plans to resign from the legislature after two decades to become community development director for the city of Longview.

Washington state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, has announced she plans to resign from the legislature after two decades to become community development director for the city of Longview.

Faith Matthews / Washington Senate Republican Caucus

Rivers will soon take the reins of the city of Longview’s Community Development Department, overseeing the city’s building and planning divisions. The job, according to city documents, pays a salary between $102,000 and $140,000.

Rivers is targeting January for her exit. That timeline would allow her to address her colleagues in Olympia, she said, and for a state-level commission to finish its once-in-a-decade redistricting process that redraws the state’s legislative and congressional districts.

“I think it’s wise to wait a few minutes so redistricting can happen, and then people can be appointed within the new district,” Rivers said. Redistricting could finish by mid-November.

A former middle school math teacher who rose to lead the Senate Republican Caucus last January, Rivers first served two terms in the House. The 18th District covers larger towns outside Vancouver – Battle Ground, Camas, Ridgefield – and juts northeast beyond rural Yacolt.

Rivers said she was most proud of her work helping fund education, cutting law enforcement’s backlog for processing rape kits, and helping regulate Washington’s cannabis industries.

One of Rivers’ most consequential acts in Olympia was to lead the Senate against earmarking $450 million for a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River. The megaproject faltered and the century-old bridge connecting Oregon and Washington still has not been replaced.

Rivers never shied from her legacy ending the bridge, but she noted she was also a “driving force” to launch the bi-state committee that is currently charged with replacing the bridge. She said there was “no grave dancing” on her part.

“If you do something like that, you have to be part of the solution as well. And I recognize that,” Rivers said.

Last year, Rivers faced dual challenges from Republicans. In July, the Clark County Republican Party decreed Rivers no longer “met the standards for being a Republican under (party) bylaws,” citing past votes, such as one supporting a gas tax in 2015. The party endorsed challenger John Ley, a retired commercial airline pilot and self-described “true conservative” who ran on transportation issues.


Former state Sen. Don Benton, a Republican with whom Rivers famously feuded on the Senate floor in 2013, also tried to fund a write-in campaign against her, according to documents obtained by OPB.

“I think partisan politics on both sides have become hateful,” Rivers said. “Trying to destroy people personally – it’s like that on both sides.”

Rivers prevailed in November, but she pointed to the following session — where Democrats controlled both chambers — as a factor in her resignation. Recent bills that she pointed to as having no Republican support included a spate of policing overhauls and the launch of a state-run long-term care program.

“For me, last session was concerning,” Rivers said. “There was so little that happened in a bipartisan way. That’s not to say that nothing that happened was bipartisan. … I really want to be in an environment where I can make a difference and not have it all be about party politics.”

Aaron Wasser, a Senate Democrats spokesperson, called Rivers’ statement surprising. He noted more than 90% of all bills passed since 2019 have had a least one Republican ‘yes’ vote. He said Rivers was herself helpful in reaching across the aisle.

“I know Sen. Rivers is well-liked among our members and has worked closely with them on several issues, health care especially, so it’s too bad to hear that she’s leaving, and surprising that she cited partisanship as the reason,” Wasser said. “We’re proud of the bipartisan work that gets done in Olympia and the collaborative, community-centered nature of the process.”

Rivers’ resignation opens the seat for new blood in the Senate. Under Washington law, the Clark County Council will pick someone to serve until the November 2022 election. Then, voters will decide who serves the last two years of Rivers’ term.

Rivers’ district-mates, Reps. Brandon Vick and Larry Hoff, split on whether they are considering the seat.

“I think it’s definitely of interest,” said Vick, 37, who assumed office in 2013. “There’s a lot to weigh. … How am I better suited to serve my constituents? As a senior member of the House or a junior member of the Senate?”

Hoff, a 69-year-old retired credit union executive who took office in 2019, said he has no plans to run. He said he was content in the House, where he is a ranking member on the labor committee.

“I think my presence there is important,” Hoff said. “I think the work we’re doing in the House is very important; as is the Senate, I just have no desire to be in the Senate.”

The 18th District, Rivers said, is far more purple than when she started. Housing is a major issue. In recent years, the town of Ridgefield has consistently ranked among the fastest-growing populations in the state.

Homelessness is another issue in the district, she said, and one she will tackle in her new role in Longview. In her future department, she will play a role in planning the city’s policies to address it.

On her potential successor, Rivers said she hoped it will be someone with a background in politics or law. And she was hopeful to see, even from a distance, more bipartisanship

“Don’t hear me say that it’s too late,” Rivers said. “What I’m saying is, where there’s a will to work together, you can bring home to the people of our region what we need.”