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District Democrats say Rolfes likely a shoo-in

Old friends Phil Rockefeller and Christine Rolfes enjoy some down time during a bridge groundbreaking event in Kingston.  - Tad Sooter/North Kitsap Herald
Old friends Phil Rockefeller and Christine Rolfes enjoy some down time during a bridge groundbreaking event in Kingston.
— image credit: Tad Sooter/North Kitsap Herald

A decision still has to be made, but don’t be surprised if third-term state Rep. Christine Rolfes becomes Sen. Rolfes later this summer.

The Bainbridge Island Democrat appears to be the preordained successor to fellow islander Sen. Phil Rockefeller, who resigned his state post last month after being appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Shortly thereafter, Rolfes, who also represents the 23rd Legislative District, received Rockefeller’s blessing to succeed him in the Senate.

When asked recently if she’s had her eye on the Senate seat for a while, the former Bainbridge Island city councilor said: “Not from the beginning, but it’s a natural progression and I would have filed for the seat in 2012 (if Rockefeller didn’t).”

If she’s appointed to replace Rockefeller and wants to regain the position, then she’ll have to file in 2012 anyway because that’s when Rockefeller’s term expires.

“It would be a lateral move, literally, because it’s really the same job but with the opportunity to do more because there are 49 senators instead of the 98 in the House,” she said. “The job is fun, especially the part where you take ideas from people, your neighbors, and then make things happen.”

Nevertheless, there’s still an appointment process to go through since two other Kitsap County Democrats have applied – Ed Stern, a Poulsbo City Council member, and James Sommerhauser, a Central Kitsap resident and a member of both the state and county 23rd District executive boards.

The process requires three applicants from whom the commissioners will choose the new senator, according to Mike Arnold, chair of the county Democratic Central Committee.

Arnold said he had hoped that at least six people would have applied before this week’s deadline, “but all three who did are qualified and would do a good job.”

The 60-day process for the appointment began on June 30 and will be followed by the party’s precinct committee officers interviewing the applicants at a July 12 special caucus meeting. They will rank the candidates and then send their preferences to the commissioners, who will appoint the new senator – probably in late July.

Arnold said it appears many Democrats have assumed Rolfes will get the appointment, “but you never know what will happen when people get in front of the commissioners for an interview.”

Stern, a four-term councilor for the City of Poulsbo,  said he’s a serious candidate. But he added that he mostly applied because he didn’t feel there would be a discussion of issues and perspectives if Christine was the only serious candidate.

“I believe there still needs to be some level of discussion of issues and perspectives,” said Stern. He considers himself a “pro business” Democrat who would push for tax breaks for small businesses and statewide property tax reform.

Sommerhauser a retired federal employee with a labor background, said his application was primarily just a formality. He said he is qualified for the position, but considers Rolfes the obvious choice.

“I only applied to protect the process, which calls for the party to submit three names. If there were only two, then from what I understand the commissioners could pick anyone from the party. I have the qualifications, but I’m not all that interested in it. Christine is the obvious front runner because she’s a House incumbent. But there will be more folks applying for her job than did for the Senate seat.”

Arnold said there are at least three Democrats who have indicated they would like to replace Rolfes if she is appointed to replace Rockefeller.

“The three who I know about are Drew Hansen, Hilary Franz and Holly Mortlock,” he said. “And hopefully there will be many more.”

Franz, a Bainbridge Island City Council member and an attorney, has voiced interest in the position but was unavailable for comment before Thursday’s press deadline. She did not seek re-election to the council, with her first term expiring at the end of this year.

Hansen, an island resident and a partner at Susman Godfrey LLP in Seattle, said Thursday that he will apply if Rolfes changes jobs.

“We need a forceful, progressive advocate for issues that matter to us,” said Hansen, who has been involved in 23rd District politics for several years.

“I’m interested in issues such as clean air and water, strong public schools, good jobs and reliable ferries. As a lawyer, I’m an advocate for clients every day involving those issues. That’s what I do,” he added.

Mortlock is an East Bremerton resident and precinct committee officer for the Kitsap County Democratic Central Committee.

She is also a former social studies teacher at Bainbridge High School who served as a legislative assistant in Olympia during the last three years. She has worked on a few local political campaigns, including Rolfes’s re-election bids.

“I decided I will seek the position because I have seen first-hand how badly our State Legislature needs an educator with recent classroom experience, and who has experience getting things done in Olympia,” she said.

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