Angel could put Kitsap Dems to test

Was that partisanship in the air at the Kitsap County Commission this week? We’re shocked – shocked! – at such a notion.

Yet efforts to find a successor for North Kitsap Com­missioner and Democrat Chris Endresen (who lately decamped for Maria Cantwell’s office) appeared to stall along party lines, when South Kitsap Republican Jan Angel called for public hearings through which to evaluate the candidates.

Kitsap Democrats had already winnowed their slate of preferred appointees to Stephen Bauer of Hansville, whose curriculum vitae includes terms as Belleveue city manager and finance director for the city of Portland, Ore.; Tom Nevins of Poulsbo, a Kitsap County planning commissioner; and islander Clarence Moriwaki, a former Tukwila councilman and Jay Inslee operative who now works as county public affairs director. They were culled from a dozen or so hopefuls after a round of open-door screenings by local Democratic precinct officials.

Under state law, the remaining county commissioners – Angel and Central Kitsap Democrat Josh Brown – have 60 days to select their new colleague from the finalists named by the departing commissioner’s party officials. Earlier this week, Angel said she wouldn’t make up her mind until the candidates fielded questions before the public; Democrats protested that the hopefuls were already well vetted, and that anyone who wanted to attend the previous candidate interviews (including Angel herself) had been free to do so. That touched off a round of finger-pointing and accusations of partisanship, and raised the prospect of a two-legged county commission hobbling through its affairs until late August – and North Kitsap and Bainbridge residents without a representative to call their own all the while.

While public participation is a fine ideal, filling a vacant commission seat is by design the province of the party that controls the seat, in this case, Democrats. And as Brown and others noted, it’s an appointment, not an election – so what Republicans or constituencies outside of North Kitsap think about Endresen’s immediate successor is irrelevant. They can have their say when the position next appears on the ballot, in fall 2008.

Thursday evening, Angel flip-flopped and said she would support Bauer without any public meetings, apparently opening the door for a timely resolution. Brown hasn’t made his preference public; if he and Angel agree, the vacancy will be filled quickly, and if not, the appointment gets punted up to the governor’s office for Chris Gregoire to decide. Given the governor’s party affiliation and the current clout of the 23rd District delegation, we suspect she would go with the precinct officers’ top choice anyway: Bauer. Meaning that Angel’s foot-dragging would have accomplished nothing, for her county or her party.

Certainly it can be a challenge for elected officials to work with grace in an intensely partisan age, and we commend Angel for her gesture of conciliation. We’d like to think Kitsap Democrats would be equally gracious if the tables were turned and it were a Republican seat being filled.

If anyone doubts they would, Angel’s perfectly positioned to put them to the test. She need only step down to find out.