Sherry Appleton will retire as representative for Washington’s 23rd Legislative District at the end of her current two-year term in 2021.
Rep. Appleton has stated her intent to step down from the position she has served since 2005. Her retirement will cap off a quarter-century of public service, which has also included a seat on the Poulsbo City Council dais for two terms.
“Being allowed to work for the people of Kitsap and the entire state for so long has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life,” Appleton (D-23rd, Poulsbo) said. “I will certainly miss working with my fellow 23rd-district legislators, Rep. Drew Hansen and Sen. Christine Rolfes, and the friendships I have made with other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and both chambers. But that seat in Olympia doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to all of us here in the 23rd district, and it’s time we sent someone else to sit in it for a while.”
According to Rep. Appleton, the proudest moments of her legislative career came when she was named “Legislator of the Year by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Humane Legislator of the Year by the Washington State Humane Society.”
Appleton has worked on policy issues ranging from criminal justice and animal welfare to education and transportation. She was elected by her fellow Democrats to chair two House committees: Community Development and Housing & Tribal Affairs. She currently chairs the Council of State Governments’ Public Safety Committee, and is a member of the Washington Council on Aging and the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, according to a statement from Rep. Appleton’s office.
Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-23rd District), lauded Appleton’s ability to foster cohesiveness amongst her Democratic peers.
“The delegation from the 23rd [District] has always — since I’ve been in the Legislature — really worked like a team,” Rolfes said. “Each member of the team took specific issues and then supported the others as they fought for their issues. Sherry has always been a team player and as a leader in Olympia, a really great person to work with.”
Rolfes said Appleton has “one of the biggest hearts in the Legislature.”
“She has a reputation for fighting really hard for our district and also fighting really hard for people who might traditionally not have had a voice in the Legislature,” Rolfes said.
The poor, the elderly and animal rights, Rolfes said, were all high on the list of Appleton’s legislative priorities. But according to the senator, Appleton’s work on criminal sentencing reform is what has distinguished her as a legislator ahead of her time.
“I think one of her legacies is bringing criminal sentencing reform to the mainstream,” Rolfes said. “When Appleton was first elected to the Legislature, the state as a whole had a real ‘tough on crime’ mentality … She’s always been at odds with the idea that people should be punished for the rest of their lives for crimes they committed, and that if somebody has served their time, that they deserve the chance to be re-engaged in the community.”
“As a result, we have a justice system now that has things like a diversion for mentally ill people, drug courts that help people with addiction, rather than putting them in prison and a much more robust re-entry system for when people are leaving the corrections system.”
According to Rolfes, Appleton was known for her tenacity and stubbornness when it came to important issues.
“She completely has a reputation — I think she’s had it for 30 years — of just being a bulldog, being extremely persistent on issues that she cares about,” Rolfes said. “As a team, we deployed her constantly on capital budget issues on things like funding requests from the district.”
Rolfes also took a moment to commended Appleton’s commitment to legislative work.
“She gave this job her heart and soul and all of her time,” Rolfes said. “She’s a full-time legislator whose heart and mind are in it 100 percent.”
“You can never fill Sherry’s shoes,” Rolfes said. “They’re small shoes, yet very hard to fill.”
Rep. Appleton stirred some controversy in 2018 when she voted in favor of a bill (SB 6617) which would exempt the Washington State Legislature from the Public Records Act. The bill passed the House 83 to 14 but was later vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
In a July 2018 interview, Appleton expressed her regret in voting for the bill.
“What happened that day was all of us were called to the floor and we were not told what was in that bill and everybody from the House, the Senate, everybody voted for it,” Rep. Appleton said. “Then we realized what it did, and we went to the governor and asked him to veto it. We never exempt ourselves from public records … You can have my texts, I never do business with my texts, but you can’t have my emails. The reason for that is so many constituents write us with very personal issues, and it’s up to me to guard their privacy when they’ve done that. It wasn’t to exempt everything out, it was to make sure that we could continue on and [newspapers] have been asking for this stuff for years, and we give it to them.”
“I would not have voted for the bill, because it was wrong,” Appleton added “We were sort of barreled into it and everybody felt that way. We felt that we had been sold a load of goods, so that’s how it got vetoed.”
Despite running in opposition to Appleton’s most recent re-election bid, Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said she harbored no animus for Appleton and offered praise for the representative’s years of service.
“Whenever somebody has been in the Legislature for that many years, first of all, you need to say ‘thank you,’” Erickson said. “Thank you for working in representative government and working as hard as a person can for the good of the people. I commend Sherry Appleton for all of her hard work.”
“She and I didn’t agree on certain things but I always respect people who are willing to stand up and do the hard work of being in an elected office,” the mayor said. “I wish her great happiness in her retirement.”
Appleton is a former member of the Sentencing Guidelines Commission and chaired the Commission’s Juvenile Sentencing Committee. She was appointed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to serve as an advisor to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and is a former board member of the Association of Washington Cities and the Northwest Women’s Law Center.
Rep. Appleton will remain a member of the House until her successor is sworn into office on Jan. 13, 2021.
The 23rd Legislative District includes Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo, Kingston, Silverdale, Winslow and East Bremerton.