Recently, the media disclosed that Gov. Christine Gregoire is on a White House list as a possible replacement for Solicitor General.
The Solicitor General position could become vacant if incumbent Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court is confirmed by the United States Senate.
It has long been believed that Gregoire would only serve two terms as governor and not seek re-election in 2012. It has also been speculated that she would join President Obama in the other Washington if he were elected to a second term.
As a result, many Democratic contenders have been carefully testing the waters with groups and power brokers to get ready for when Gregoire makes an official announcement. Up until now, they had all assumed that announcement was many months away, and it still could be. However, the Solicitor General option caught all the candidates a little by surprise.
Those considered possible Democratic contenders for governor include Spokane State Sen. Lisa Brown, who has been reaching out to Puget Sound area leaders; House Speaker Frank Chopp, who has been in touch with leaders on the eastside of the mountains; Jay Inslee, who has been a congressman on both sides of the mountains; and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon.
The leading Republican candidate is Attorney General Rob McKenna — and because he is from the opposite party, he has not had to be cautious about his plans. McKenna has been courting the Tea Party and Republican conservatives, and having been a King County Council member, he already has contacts in the most popular area in the state and has run well here.
The Democrats need to be careful to avoid alienating Gregoire or her supporters. However, if Gregoire were to look like she was leaving early, then suddenly everything is wide open.
There has been speculation that she could leave early enough to cause a free-for-all election in November. Gregoire would have to leave almost immediately for there to be time to schedule an August primary, and that is very unlikely. The confirmation process for Kagen will be played out over several weeks or possibly months. Then, if Gregoire were to get the nomination, that again would take many months and she wouldn’t resign until confirmed. If she resigns, Lt. Governor Brad Owen would finish her term, although the Legislature could call for a special election next year.
Everything depends on timing and, of course, whether she gets or even wants the job is another question. The job is consistent with her skills and resume, and the president has consulted with her on many topics. But will she leave?
Most people I’ve talked to think the timing would have to be at least sometime next spring for her to consider it; she is only one and a half years into this term. The budget problems are a challenge she would undoubtedly like to shepherd through the next legislative session, and she would like to feel comfortable about turning over to her successor a state that was in better shape than it is now.
The last piece again is timing: Who will control the Legislature after the November elections? If it’s the Democrats, then Gregoire has more latitude to consider her options. If it’s the Republicans, the decisions get a little more difficult.
In the meantime, watch the maneuvering and the press releases because the stakes just got higher.