Following the story about the commissioners’ rationale behind going with the Democratic Party’s third choice for commissioner, I was copied on this letter addressed to Rob Gelder, county commissioner. It’s from Martha Lynn-Johnson, a board member for the Kitsap County Democratic Central Committee.
“You insulted the PCO’s by going with your friend; regardless of how the PCO’s voted. Ethically speaking, you should have recused yourself since you and Linda are good friends. It should have been obvious that the majority were trying to keep Linda out of the top three. I was stunned that you went to the third choice (too bad Clarence wasn’t picked instead of you). And, to add insult to injury, you say you two were being naughty, however, you’ll see how long our collective memories will be for the next two years. You will never be re-elected. You are a disappointment.
One minor correction. I was the one who wrote the commissioners found themselves on the “naughty list.” Gelder didn’t say that. Just so we’re clear.
While this is just one person writing to the commissioner, based on the comments following the story and in the private conversations I have had, this is not an isolated opinion. Many Democrats were madder than commuters lining up to get on the George Washington Bridge.
The way the state constitution is written the commissioners’ only obligation to the party is to pick among the three candidates the party sent. So commissioners have every right to choose the person they feel will best do the job.
On the other hand, when they don’t pick the party’s first choice, the precinct committee officers have every constitutional right to complain like cable customers looking at an electric blizzard that should be the Super Bowl. It might even be a healthy thing when they complain. It sends a message for next time around.
That’s actually on Friday, although Democratic complaining could be seen as a trick. This time it’s three Republicans vying for a job. Charlotte Garrido, Gelder and now Linda Streissguth, will be on the dais when leaders from Kitsap and Pierce Counties pick a successor for Jan Angel’s former House seat.
I tried to get some background on why the selection process works like this, but it’s something that goes back to the 1800s. That’s when the state constititution was crafted and I didn’t find the rationale in an afternoon.
As a casual history student, though, I can state with great authority that there is a reason the process is set up this way. As a political philosopher I can think of a few reasons why.
One process is, on its face, a political exercise. PCOs have every reason to not just consider who will best do the job, but who is the most electable the next time around, who has been the most loyal party soldier and whose agenda most matches theirs. County commissioners can consider all those factors, too, but it makes sense that they might put their own list of priorities in a different order. In this case the two commissioners both belonged to the same party, but it wasn’t that way when the PCOs and the commissioners picked Steve Bauer in 2007.
Too much is made of the fact that Streissguth didn’t have a majority on the first two ballots. She had the lead. Unlike past PCO processes where a third name, or even a second one, is a fair distance behind the first choice, Streissguth got enough votes to be considered a strong contender.
And while we all had to scratch our heads and find another instance where commissioners bucked the party in Kitsap County, the Chris Endresen-Mary McClure switcheroo, it was just last year that it happened in Pierce County. The County Council, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, named the county Republican Party’s second choice, Steve O’Ban, to a Senate seat to replace Mike Carrell after he died. The party had picked Dick Muri by a 20-16 vote among PCOs.
Having watched the Pierce Council when they worked with Kitsap commissioners to pick a replacement for Derek Kilmer in the 26th LD Senate seat, I’m not at all surprised. Those council members take their role seriously and are willing to execute their own discretion in making a final pick.
In fact, even political factors are openly discussed. Nathan Schlicher, who won a 12-11 vote among 26th Legislative District PCOs, got the 7-1 nod from the county leaders in large part because he said he was going to run later that year, while the other candidate, Todd Iverson, said he wasn’t sure.
Dan Roach, a Republican Pierce County Council member who served 10 years in the state Legislature, said that was a deciding factor for him.
Politics was an even more open factor a few months later. When O’Ban, who had been serving in the House, was picked, one of the reasons was that he would be a stronger candidate in 2014. If PCOs raised a fuss there, I haven’t seen evidence. Instead, they picked Dick Muri to replace O’Ban in the House. The council complied.
The Pierce County Council members didn’t just look at the PCO results and put a stamp on it. They asked questions. They did their own research. What’s the point of that if you’re not open to making up your own mind?
If Democrats locally maintain their displeasure, this obviously has the potential to be a factor against them in November. Disgruntled Democrats won’t necessarily vote for a Republican, but they are more likely to sit out the question, to leave their ballots blank. Republicans have put up a candidate, Ed Wolfe, who is well liked and well backed. And after this week’s event he is probably well funded. Streissguth not only has to overcome Wolfe, but might also have to beat back a challenge from within the party from former Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman. He came in fourth on PCO night, by the way. He said he is talking to friends he counts as advisors to help him decide whether he will run.