One of the responsibilities of the County Council is to appoint replacements to fill legislative positions that become vacant before the end of the regular term. The law requires that when a mid-term vacancy occurs in the state legislature, the local district from the political party that has held the office selects three candidates for appointment. The initial selection is made by the precinct committee officers (PCOs) from the legislative district, which are then approved by the countywide party organization and forwarded to the County Council for a final selection and vote. Traditionally, but not always, the candidate with the most PCO votes is selected for the appointment. These are important decisions, with a potentially large impact on the legislature and the residents of King County.
Congratulating newly appointed Representative Vandana Slatter on January 5, 2017
These processes can be joyous victory laps or they can entail painful choices among excellent candidates. The candidates can be accomplished former elected officials or other “placeholders” who agree to hold the seat temporarily or they can be candidates who intend to run for election to hold the seat through the next term. My very first vote as a freshman County Councilmember last year was to appoint then-Representative Reuven Carlyle to fill the Senate seat vacated by my colleague Jeanne Kohl-Welles who had been elected to King County Council. At the time, Representative Carlyle was an already-accomplished state elected official, with a strong track record of advocating for a fairer tax system and full funding for education. He had gained unanimous support of the precinct committee officers in his district. Voting to support his appointment was a proud moment for me and a wonderful opportunity to be part of the selection of one of our strongest and most principled state legislators.
In 2016, four vacancies came open in the State Senate: 45th District Republican Senator Andy Hill sadly passed away, 37th District Democratic Senator Pramila Jayapal was elected to Congress, 48th District Democratic Senator Cyrus Habib was elected Washington State Lieutenant Governor, and 31st District Senator Pam Roach was elected to the Pierce County Council. The process of filling each one of these has been unique.
In the 45th, a district that encompasses a large portion of Council District 6, including sections of Redmond, Kirkland, and Woodinville, chose to appoint a “placeholder”– and the Republican PCO’s recommended three strong candidates led by former Senator Dino Rossi, who was appointed unanimously by vote of the County Council. Senator Rossi stated that he does not intend to run for election, but both he and the local district agreed that his experience in crafting a state budget would be valuable to the Senate during the 2017 session.
In the 37th, a district that incorporates much of South Seattle, the district advanced three exceptional young candidates who were each seeking their first elected office and intended to run for the seat at the end of the legislative session. Two of the candidates received a significant number of votes from the Democratic PCO’s in the district. In circumstances such as this, the County Council has a harder job. The Council ultimately voted to appoint Rebecca Saldana, a community advocate and progressive leader in Seattle who had been a strong voice for social justice to fill the vacant Senate seat.
On January 7, we took up a vote on the Senate vacancy in the 48th , my own district, which covers parts of Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond and the points communities. The district had initially scheduled to vote on candidates in early December, but the vote was postponed due to weather. The Democratic PCOs had forwarded us a list of six outstanding candidates — three for the open Senate seat and three to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives, because the top Senate candidate was a then-current House member who would leave a vacancy behind her if selected. Candidates included long-time community volunteers and activists, two elected officials, residents of Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland, an advocate for people with disabilities, a lawyer, a retired teacher, an entrepreneur and a scientist. They ranged in age from the 20s to the 70s. Each spoke to issues that matter to all of us — how to fully fund education, fix our regressive tax system, involve the next generation in civic life and leadership, how to serve our increasingly diverse community on the eastside. These candidates did the 48th district proud, and in the end, the Council selected Representative Patty Kuderer for the Senate seat and Bellevue Councilmember Vandana Slatter for the resulting House vacancy. Both were sworn in immediately and Senator Kuderer left immediately to head for Olympia.
We also filled a vacancy in the 31st District. The 31st District held their meeting to select the finalists on Tuesday, January 3rd. Because the 31st includes parts of both King and Pierce county, both councils met to decide on the final selection. We were able to schedule a joint meeting for Saturday, January 7th. At that meeting, Representative-elect Phil Fortunato was selected for the Senate and Seattle Police Officer Morgan Irwin was selcted to fill the resulting House vacancy. Both appointees have stated that they have intent to run for election in 2017. All of the current vacancies in the legislature were filled in time for session to start on Monday, January 9, and the real fun now begins!