In an email yesterday to his supporters urging them to email the King County Council Democrats, initiative hawker Tim Eyman warned of a Democratic “plot” to delay appointing state senator Pam Roach’s (R-31, Auburn) replacement in time for the beginning of the legislative session in Olympia next week. In November, the temperamental senator (Roach had been repeatedly disciplined by the GOP caucus for aggro behavior) won election to the Pierce County Council, leaving a vacancy. The GOP can’t take advantage of its 25-24 vote advantage until the spot is filled.
However, no plot is afoot.
Last night, the precinct committee officers in the 31st Legislative District nominated their top-three picks to replace Roach, including their top-pick Phil Fortunato, a former one-term state representative from 1998 to 2000 who currently runs a storm water management company and actually just won election as the new state rep there. Per the process, the names will go to a joint vote of the King County and Pierce County councils; the 31st straddles both counties.
The other two choices were David Patrick and Cheryl Marshall.
Eyman’s email speculates that the King County Council—where Democrats have a 6-3 advantage, “are under tremendous pressure to delay this appointment.”
It’s an odd accusation given that Roach herself is to blame for the delay to date. While she was elected to the Pierce County Council in November, she didn’t officially notify the party that she was resigning her state senate seat until about a week ago. In contrast, in Seattle’s Democratic 37th Legislative District, where Pramila Jayapal, who officially vacated her state senate seat promptly after winning election to the U.S. house this November, was able to make its appointment back on December 5th. The King County Council then appointed one of the 37th’s picks to the state senate, Rebecca Saldana, on December 12.
Eyman, who wouldn’t address Roach’s role in the delay, goes on to say that “uber-activist,” newly-elected Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib is planning to exploit Roach’s vacancy to help the Democrats take control of the senate; the lieutenant governor is the senate president and functions as a tie breaker, giving the Democrats the advantage in the case of a 24-24 split without Roach’s replacement present.
Eyman writes: “A tie in the state senate will allow uber-activist Democrat Cyrus Habib to stage a coup and empower the minority Democrats to take over the Senate and pass a litany of liberal legislation until Pam's successor is named.” Eyman goes on to use Habib’s answers to last year’s King County Democrats’ questionnaire to imply that Habib is in on a plot. In the questionnaire, then-lieutenant-governor candidate Habib was asked by the Democrats if he would vote to break any tie votes in favor of the Democrats; at that point the Democrats were still hoping to take back the state senate, but explained in the question to Habib that any Democratic advantage would be a narrow one. Habib wrote: “Frankly, this is even more important if we were to pick up a single seat and remain in the minority. Once we have 24 Democratic Senators, the Republican majority would need all 25 Senators present and voting to retain control of the floor. But whether we have 24 or 25 seats, I will of course be willing to break ties in favor of the progressive policies that [Democratic leader state senator Sharon] … Nelson and I both care about.”
Even though the Republicans have named their picks, and the King and Pierce County councils are reportedly planning to interview the three candidates and then vote in a joint meeting (tentatively planned to take place in either Fife or Federal Way I'm hearing), Eyman is still in a state of alarm. Using exclamation marks, his email, which oddly leaves the Pierce County Council out of the process, juxtaposes the pending vote on Roach’s replacement with the King County Council vote in the 37th (and in the 45th, where former Republican state senator Andy Hill’s death led to another senate appointment, Republican Dino Rossi.)
“Last month,” Eyman writes, “when it came to choosing the senate successors for the 37th district (Rebecca Saldana) and the 45th district (Dino Rossi), the Council moved lightning fast: the PCO's picked their three appointees and the King County Council interviewed them and chose them the same day!!) But the Democrats are under tremendous pressure to delay this appointment.”
Just to be clear—because Eyman’s sentence is misleading (or poorly written)—the King County Council did not interview and choose the appointee on the same day that the PCO’s made their top three picks; there was a weeklong gap in the case of Saldana and a two-week gap in the case of Rossi.
Eyman tells Fizz: “They should choose the senate successor the same day the same way they did with the 37th and 45th PCO's picks—on the same day as the interviews.”
Despite Eyman’s concern, the Democrats are planning to do the interviews and vote on the same day. I have a message in to the King County Council Democratic Joe McDermott (who runs the appointment process), but meanwhile, two other Democratic King County Council members say there’s no plan to delay anything. Democratic King County Council member Claudia Balducci says: “The plan will be to interview and vote on the same day. The goal is [to] have all selections made before the start of session. All the districts with vacancies deserve to have representation for the full session.”
And Democratic King County Council member Dave Upthegrove tells me: “We always interview and vote on the same day.”
UPDATE: McDermott says he's currently working to schedule a joint meeting with the Pierce County Council and that, "the interview and appointment would all take place in same meeting prior to Monday's start of session [in Olympia]."
He adds: "Eyman is pedaling fake news."
Sidenote: In a sign of Roach’s influence in the district, sitting Republican state representative Drew Stokesbary (R-31, Auburn), one of the hopefuls for the appointment, didn’t get enough PCO votes. Roach “claims I’m not conservative enough” Stokesbary says.
In his speech last night, Stokesbary pointed out that he and Roach actually received the same 67 percent rating from the American Conservative Union last session. He also noted that youth should be valued by the Republican Party; the median age in the room was easily 55-plus, Stokesbary, 31, reports. He also noted that he was just named the number two House Republican on the Appropriations Committee, which, he says, “wouldn't have happened unless leadership trusted my ability to understand our highly complex state budget.” One of Stokesbary’s apparent sins is that he supported the gas tax to fund the 2015 transportation package. He explains: “The transpo package was ultimately a choice between 12 cents to fund badly needed projects in our community, and a $1.00-plus increase in fuel costs [Governor Jay Inslee’s proposed low-carbon fuel standard] to obtain marginal benefits in a state that already has one of the nation's best environmental records, and I chose the outcome least impactful to our pocketbooks.”