Political punt means Inslee will fill empty House seat | THE PETRI DISH

It was not the case Monday that the Snohomish County Council could not decide which of three Republican gentlemen should temporarily occupy an empty seat in the state House of Representatives.

It was not the case Monday that the Snohomish County Council could not decide which of three Republican gentlemen should temporarily occupy an empty seat in the state House of Representatives.

It simply was a matter of them not wanting to decide.

More precisely, the council’s four Democrats figured it wasn’t worth the political risk and punted the decision to Gov. Jay Inslee, another Democrat.

Chairman Dave Somers and council members Brian Sullivan, Stephanie Wright and Terry Ryan — the Democratic quartet — had each received varying degrees of cautionary counsel against filling the opening created by the resignation of Republican Rep. Mike Hope in July.

More accurately, influential party members privately painted a clear picture for each of how a decision could impact their political aspirations. Somers is eyeing statewide office, while Sullivan, Wright and Ryan are contemplating a future try for county executive.

Monday morning, the Democrats demonstrated they understood what they saw.

Republican precinct officers had nominated Mill Creek City Councilman Mark Harmsworth, Lake Stevens City Councilman Sam Low and retired Navy captain Doug Roulstone for the open seat in the 44th Legislative District.

Harmsworth was the top choice, and Low and Roulstone both urged the council to appoint him.

But Harmsworth is also a candidate for the seat and beat Democrat Mike Wilson in the August primary. Democratic Party leaders did not want the title of representative bestowed on Harmsworth in the interim for fear it would give his campaign a boost.

The council’s four Democrats and one Republican, Ken Klein, knew all this when they interviewed the nominees and adjourned into executive session to discuss their qualifications.

Council members emerged 25 minutes later, sat down to resume the council’s public session and, in one breath, voted 5-0 to ask Inslee to make the decision. They then took another break.

“There is no reason other than partisan politics that the Council failed to appoint Mr. Harmsworth,” Snohomish County Republican Party Chairwoman Billye Brooks Sebastiani wrote in an email. “This is unacceptable and a total lack of leadership.”

And it was certainly nothing like the scene in January. That’s when the council didn’t hesitate to appoint Democratic Rep. Marko Liias to succeed Sen. Paull Shin, who had resigned, and picked Lillian Ortiz-Self to fill Liias’ seat.

It didn’t bother the council at all that Liias and Ortiz-Self had both been campaigning for the offices to which they were appointed. As a result, council members did much more than bestow a title upon each of them. It put Liias in a new political office and Ortiz-Self in power in time for the 2014 legislative session.

Now Inslee will become the first governor in more than a half-century to choose someone to serve in the Legislature.

Governors used to be the ones filling the occasional legislative vacancy. A law change in 1956 gave county council representatives the responsibility. Governors would intercede only when county leaders failed to act, a failure that hadn’t occurred until this week’s bout of inaction in Everett.

Inslee, who will pick from among Harmsworth, Low and Roulstone, has until around Oct. 24 to act.

He’ll likely be urged by fellow Democrats to take his time. Though the first-term governor enjoys jabbing Republicans once in a while, playing politics by delaying action doesn’t seem worth it.

It seems by now this should simply be a matter of deciding.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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