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House leader Richard DeBolt leaves for health reasons

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt Credit: Washington State Legislature

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt stepped down from his post Wednesday because of health reasons, although he plans to serve out his term in the Washington Legislature. The exact details of his illness were not released, but DeBolt has had a long-running non-life-threatening chronic stomach problem.

“Two years ago, my doctor recommended that I step down from my position as leader. I didn’t take that advice and should have,” said DeBolt, R-Chehalis, in a press release. “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 has been ill and missing from the House floor since April 10. He is the second Republican legislative leader to take a less stressful spot because of health reasons in the past two years.

Then-Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt stepped down from his post after the 2012 session because of health problems resulting in a major operation. He is still a rank-and-file member of the Republican Caucus and the Majority Coalition Caucus.

Deputy Minority Leader and northeastern Washington rancher Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, is replacing Debolt as the acting House minority leader. This is his ninth year in the Legislature.

Kretz found out about DeBolt's decisions Wednesday morning. He said the Republicans' House leaders have not met yet to decide if they want to make any internal changes prior to the end of the session.

Kretz said BeBolt faces "a couple weeks of treatment that has left him pretty uncomfortable." DeBolt had a bad episode of this same illness two years ago in China. "He had serious considerations of leaving then," Kretz said. "He started feeling worse [this time] in November."

DeBolt, who joined the House in 1996, had been minority leader for nine years. His medical instructions are to avoid junk food, salt, coffee and stress.

“Richard has been a stalwart leader for his caucus and I thank him for his dedication and work. I wish him all the best as he takes time to focus on his family and his health,” said Gov. Jay Inslee in a written statement.

For more exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

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