He's been a fixture on the Kirkland City Council for 11 years, during which time he's served four years as mayor, chaired countless meetings, made thousands of decisions. But come January, Larry Springer will move on to a new challenge.
Elected in November's general election, on January 10, Springer will begin representing the 45th District in the state House of Representatives. Before he takes office in Olympia, Springer will step down from the City Council seat he's held since 1994. He leaves as Kirkland's most senior city councilmember.
The notion of running for the state house had been in the back of his mind for several years. But in October 2003, Laura Ruderman called and asked him to seek the house seat she was vacating in order to run for secretary of state.
"The big reason to run now is that this kind of opportunity might not present itself again," he said. He put his hat into the ring after determining that he could pull off serving in the house and running The Grape Choice, the wine shop he's owned in Kirkland for more than 20 years.
During a recent conversation, Springer reflected on his years on the Kirkland City Council.
"Well, the job is certainly much bigger than you might assume," he said.
As for an overview of his council tenure, he said economic responsibility has been something of its legacy.
"The reason the city is on firm financial footing today is because during the boom times the council remained conservative in its fiscal policy," he said. "In, say, the period between 1996 to 2000, I think the council did a great job of looking ahead and realizing that the strong economy would not last forever. As a result, during the tough times we were in a position to weather the downturn with as little impact as possible."
He laughed at the recollection that those tough times occurred during his tenure as mayor.
Springer said he is proud that the council resolved a $5 million budget deficit with no layoffs and no significant tax increases.
In general, he found that the most controversial issues were usually related to land use and growth, mostly in the downtown area:
"There was often a collective gasp and angst at all the downtown changes. And a lot of people just didn't like it. I could mention the names of the newer residential complexes - they always generated a strong reaction when they were on the council's agenda."
Change was inevitable, Springer said.
"I was seen as a proponent of development, and I make no bones about it," he said. "My interest has been to work to keep what we have here and make it viable."
By virtue of owning a downtown business, Springer was probably more accessible than other councilmembers. People could stop by and tell him when they disagreed.
"I learned quickly that I needed to listen very carefully. In most cases people wanted to make sure we knew how they felt. Then I was usually able to explain how the council came to a certain decision. Sometimes it's a five-year planning process that led to it," he said.
Downtown development is connected to the city's strategic plan, which itself was mandated by the state's Growth Management Act of 1990.
"Kirkland has made a passionate stance to protect its single-family neighborhoods," he said. "Adding density downtown has made that possible. Kirkland is a model for growth management done right."
He's especially pleased by the city's park acquisitions and of the council decision to hire City Manager Dave Ramsay in 1997: "We found the right guy. That he is still here is testament to that."
No tenure on the City Council would be without its share of disappointments. Springer pauses trying to remember a few.
"There are many, but I'm hard pressed to remember them. Once the vote's over I don't dwell on it," he said.
Upon further reflection, he said he wished to establish the pedestrian connection between Forbes Valley and Juanita Bay Park. He also favored different options for redeveloping Peter Kirk Park. Annexation is another regret.
"When I leave, I'll look back and say the big thing I didn't get done is annexation," he said. "It's good government. Those who want to be in Kirkland should be."
To the House
Moving to the state house, where 50 favorable votes are needed instead of just four, presents a new set of challenges.
"It's going to be a significantly different dynamic," he said. "I'm not sure how I'll react. I think 12 years of local government experience will serve me well. Many of the issues are similar, just with many more zeros."
Springer will become vice chair of the House's Housing Committee, and will serve on the Budget and Judiciary committees. Springer said one issue he plans to work on is health care reform.
"I learned from doorbelling just how bad the health care crisis is. We've got to find a way to solve this problem," he said. "I've no allusions that the state can do it on its own. But this is crucial."
He also wants to focus on the state's education system, which will involve work on the state's tax system. But, "There are no quick fixes. These will be gut-wrenching dialogues," he said.
The "continental divide" between the eastern and western parts of the state is something he wants to work on.
"Western Washington legislators need to recognize that Eastern Washington got left out of the '90s boom time. It's like we have two states, and we need to acknowledge this divide," he said.
Having helped establish what will soon be a formal sister city relationship between Kirkland and Walla Walla, he thinks he's in a good position to work on this. The same applies to bridging the partisan divide. The Kirkland City Council is not elected along party lines. While such leanings become clear over time, Springer, who was elected as a Democrat, feels that the larger issues don't necessarily have Democrat or Republican labels attached to them.
He leaves the City Council feeling optimistic about the next step and proud to have been part of the city's legislative body for more than a decade.
"People in this city are passionate about where they live," Springer said. "I can honestly say, with very few exceptions, that I've enjoyed every minute of it."