Serving in the state Legislature is not like the school board or city council where consensus on goals is more likely. The Legislature is about power, who has it and who wants it.
When state Rep. Kristine Reeves announced she was stepping down, she set off a scramble for her seat among potential candidates from both parties. The King and Pierce county councils have the responsibility to chose her replacement.
The King County Council, which is nonpartisan in name only, leans Democratic; the Pierce County Council leans Republican. Although the new appointee for the vacant 30th District seat must be a Democrat, the alignment opens the door for political mischief.
Recall that the last Democratic appointee chosen by the King County Council sat around unable to raise money waiting on the Pierce County Council, until the governor was forced to step in and make the appointment. The county councils must pick from a list of three submitted by the 30th District Democrats.
The local Democrats had a meet and greet last week and found they had several interested candidates. On Saturday they met to determine which names, and in what order, would be forwarded to the county councils.
But there are really two seats in play as Rep. Michael Pellicciotti is running for state treasurer and vacating his seat. Strategy from both parties has to include both seats. Whoever gets Reeves’ seat will then have to run for it, but will run as an appointed incumbent with one legislative session on their resume. That is an advantage, when defending two seats.
The Democrat’s goal is to retain both seats in their column, but none of the candidates have the experience of Reeves and Pellicciotti. Republicans see the seats as open and want to win both, but at least one.
Democratic strategy would suggest running your top candidate for the Pellicciotti seat and protecting your second best candidate by giving them the appointment so they can run from a stronger position. Republicans would prefer the Democrats put their best candidate in Reeves’ appointed position so they could concentrate on defeating the weaker candidate for the Pellicciotti seat.
City Council member Jesse Johnson has been perceived as the stronger Democrat because he has run and won an election, and was planning to run for Pellicciotti’s seat, until Reeves resigned.
That’s when different plans, goals and agendas started to muddle the strategic thinking, with some Democrats concerned about Republican intervention behind the scenes.
Johnson then switched to wanting to be appointed to Reeves’ seat. At Saturday’s meeting Johnson showed that he was the strongest candidate by winning the ballot for the first position for the appointment to the vacant seat, followed by former council candidate Jamila Taylor, and school teacher Sam Rise third.
Assuming everything goes smoothly and Johnson is appointed, he “hasn’t decided if he will stay on the City Council as of yet, or for how long.”
That provides a potential political weakness if he holds two elected positions at the same time for very long.
With Johnson, their best candidate, in the appointed incumbent seat, who will run in the Pellicciotti seat? The worst thing for the Democrats would be for more that one Democrat to run, splitting the vote and providing strength to the Republican candidate. But Taylor, Rise and City Council member Lydia Assefa-Dawson are considering the possibility.
And the Republicans? Their strongest candidate might be Jack Walsh, fresh off his win with the “no on pot” campaign.
The other likely candidate for the race is City Council member Martin Moore. Moore is not interested in running against Johnson, who would likely defeat him, and will encourage Walsh to take on Johnson, while Moore runs in Pellicciotti’s position against any of the three Democrats.
Moore is frequently underestimated, even though his mentor is former state legislator Mark Miloscia. If Moore convinces Walsh to run against Johnson, Moore will run for Pellicciotti’s position as a Republican, yet he will appeal to Democrats and emphasize his ability to work with Johnson. That will appeal to independent voters who will have the final say.
Having Johnson file for the Pellicciotti seat, and discouraging Moore from running against him, and having a Democratic incumbent, either Taylor or Rise in Reeves seat provides a better position to defeat Walsh, or Moore, thus improving the Democrat’s chances of retaining both seats. The races now look like a split. Both parties having a chance to win both seats. And the Republicans have a better chance to win at least one.
Democrats may miss Pellicciotti and Reeve’s talent more and more by the time the fall rolls around.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.