If you like political intrigue, then the “Perils of Pauline” — better known as the trials and tribulations of Democratic state Auditor Troy Kelley unfolding in Olympia — is just right for you.
It has been widely reported that Kelley’s house was searched, his business records turned over to federal agents under subpoena and he appears to be the target of a grand jury probe into his personal finances. This was a major campaign issue two years ago when he was first elected as auditor. Kelley has known about the investigation for two years but it was apparently never resolved and only faded in to the background.
But this issue has a local twist that might thrust Federal Way in to the middle of the biggest chess game in the state for the next two years, should Kelley have to vacate his office. Republicans calling for Kelley to resign is to be expected in the turbulent world of today’s politics, but Kelley’s problems are so serious almost no Democrats are offering any support.
And here’s why: Federal agents don’t usually raid your house without a pretty good reason. Even if Kelley avoids an indictment, the best he can expect is to finish his term next year. At worse, he could be forced to resign from office. His ability to win re-election is minimal.
Newly-elected 30th District Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia called for Kelley to testify in front of Miloscia’s legislative committee. While transparency in government may be part of Miloscia’s reasoning, there is more to the story.
Two years ago Miloscia, then a Democrat, ran for state auditor against Kelley and was defeated in the primary. If Kelley is forced to give up his office, Miloscia would likely run for the job, or he could seek to be appointed to the position.
However, there are much bigger prizes in this chess game than who gets to be state auditor. If Kelley leaves, Gov. Jay Inslee would appoint a person to the job. Despite the fact that Kelley is a Democrat, Inslee doesn’t have to appoint a Democrat.
Why wouldn’t he prefer to appoint another Democrat, and could that open the door for Federal Way’s Miloscia?
Because to some, control of the state Legislature is far more important than who sits in the auditor’s chair.
A Republican auditor like Miloscia might not be typically friendly to a Democratic governor, and could cause state and local government a lot of trouble. However, whomever Inslee appointed wouldn’t necessarily be unfriendly to the person who appointed him or her.
That opens the door slightly for Miloscia. Or Miloscia could run in a special election and win. Either way, many Democrats wouldn’t mind seeing Miloscia as auditor and, more importantly, out of the Legislature.
And here is the key to the whole row of dominos. Miloscia’s departure would open the door for the Democrats to take the Senate seat he currently holds. That puts the state Senate within the Democrat’s grasp in 2016 and gives them a stronger hand in the 2016 legislative session. Republicans see the same vulnerability and would want a strong candidate appointed to replace Miloscia should he leave, either through appointment or election.
No one is openly counting votes yet or even speculating on candidates, as they are waiting for the Kelley saga to unfold. But if Miloscia did move on to the auditor’s office, incumbent Republican Rep. Linda Kochmar would likely be interested in the Senate, as would potentially several other local office holders and political activists. It would initially be an appointment by the County Council and then an election for the balance of the term.
Parallel to that is the looming fight over the 30th District House seat currently held by Democratic appointee Rep. Carol Gregory, D-Federal Way. She will be challenged by Republican Teri Hickel and the race could cost well over $1 million.
The Democrats are eyeing control of the Senate but their two-vote margin in the lower chamber is uncomfortably close. If Republicans can win the House seat in this year’s special election, they believe that a current Democratic House member might be willing to switch to be a Republican. This would create a tie, it would cause co-committee chairs, a co-speakership, and create power sharing.
It’s still all in the speculation phase with a lot of twists and turns yet to be played out, but Federal Way could become the most important legislative district in the state for the next few months.
As I have said before, movements have meaning; read between the lines and watch the chess moves unfold.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: firstname.lastname@example.org.