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More evidence that a PCO vote is not a mandate

January 10th, 2014 by Steven Gardner

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.

“Unhappy PCO”

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.

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4 Responses to “More evidence that a PCO vote is not a mandate”

  1. Kathryn Simpson Says:

    Even if Gelder had “recused” himself, that would have left Garrido with making the selection with her single vote. She voted for Streissguth too. The letter writer criticizing Gelder shows no understanding of that in her letter of discontent.

    I am a Republican PCO. I participated in the process to bring three candidates forward to replace Jan Angel. Is this the best process? I don’t think so. But it is a LOT better to bring forward three names than to have only PCOs select the replacement.

    So, I respect the County Commissioners role. They know the job. They know the pulse and needs of the county. I hope they exercise the same level of care when voting on Friday for the replacement of Jan Angel. Though, I will say, up front, my preference is that they select the first choice…. Jesse Young.

    There is some irony and a cautionary tale to disappointed Democrat PCOs…

    Jan Angel beat the incumbent, Charlotte Garrido, in the 2000 election for County Commissioner. Garrido now has a say in who will sit in Angel’s former seat in the House. Technically, Dusty Wiley beat Charlotte in the Primary and then Angel beat Wiley in the General election. Be careful of fracturing the support base.

    Same cautionary tale for the Republicans with what happened to Patty Lent a few years later. Jack Hamilton beat the incumbent Lent and then Hamilton lost in the general election to Josh Brown.

    If we don’t learn from history, we often repeat it.

  2. Tom Nevins Says:

    PCOs of all variations may want to read this recent Sun article to begin to understand why Linda Streissguth was selected.

    Board service runs deep in new commissioner’s background
    Streissguth served with Harrison, housing authority, KEDA
    By Rachel Anne Seymour
    Posted January 11, 2014 at 7:38 p.m.

    Read more: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2014/jan/11/board-service-runs-deep-in-new-commissioners/#ixzz2q9fQSGMx
    Follow us: @KitsapSun on Twitter | KitsapNews on Facebook

  3. Mick Sheldon Says:

    I don’t expect the local democratic party PCO’s to work less for the choice of the third applicant for the job . Their party I have often admired for their loyalty for just about who has the D behind it , even when the d was unqualified . This has nothing to do with this case though . The GOP tends to eat their own for just one issue. But the basis for the PCO’s making the decision who should be chosen is based on the premise they are closest to their party , they are the voted representatives closest to their own party’s beliefs and have the most in common with the voters and the best feedback.. . If this was an elected Primary they would have chosen someone else to put their support behind . The Commissioners obviously benefited from their PCO’s in he past that they now consider out of the loop. Had a similar situation in the 23rd when we chose Bev Woods for our state rep. The fact is we took the choice very seriously , we weighed the options , what would be best for our district , our state , our party . I tend to believe the democrats are similarly dedicated to their office. I would have been ticked myself if the Commissioners chose a different choice , and naturally perhaps suspected their motives . Bite my tongue as will they I assume . But politics makes you remember these things .

    This is not the perfect system , it is suppose to be used only in rare circumstances . We have seen it too often in this county for what ever reasons . I would guess if it was used in other counties as often the rules would be changed to perhaps make it better .

    From a conservative view I like the choice better , but have to put myself in those PCO’s position and understand the more I like the choice perhaps the least they would .

  4. Chris Van Dyk Says:

    The decision to deny the Central Kitsap Commissioner appointment to elected Bremerton City Councilmember Leslie Daugs was an incredible insult to those of us, elected PCO’s, who took the time to participate in the legally mandated process, to evaluate and recommend, in rank-order, the candidates to them.

    There were candidates for the office, with far more experience in elected office, dealing with local issues, than Linda. That is said not to disparage Linda; rather, each and every person voting in the process, gave weight to different concerns. We voted, individually; the result is what it is, and that is how democracy works. The Commissioners might try it sometime. They might like it; even find themselves getting elected to office….

    Why did they bother with the process? Why did they not simply inform us, that a few individuals had made up their minds, that the position was “wired” for their first choice, not the first choice of the PCO’s, that our working tediously through ballot after ballot to ‘rank order’ the candidates was simply a constitutional anachronism, and save us all a not inordinate amount of time?

    At the very least, we could have voted for three people, without ranking. We could have voted, knowing the process was rigged, just for the fun of it. But we would not have to suffer the waste of our time, and effort, in reviewing or evaluating, anybody. Because, gee, our current County Commissioners “know better”.

    One of my choices, Cary Bozeman, was knocked out in the early balloting. Was that a “wise” choice by the PC0′s? Who knows—but that was the choice we made, that we were tasked to make, for better or worse.

    Were there some information not publicly known, but very damaging about Leslie and Irene, the Commissioners might have had good reason to skip them and go to the third choice of the group, but Commissioner Garrido’s “we know better” comment in the press, simply tells me that they themselves need to be doing some very serious explaining to the voters, why they should not be un-elected, given their evident, arrogant disrespect for what is a very democratic, and detailed, process.

    Linda, out of respect for the voting process, ought to have shown some character, and declined the appointment.

    Neither she nor the other commissioners need come looking round this precinct for support, next election. They have indicated, with this appointment, that their solicitation of this elected PCO’s opinion and support for a commissioner candidate, is a meaningless and hollow gesture.

    And Linda Steissguth needs to learn, the meaning of ‘majority vote’ in a representative democracy. I hope Leslie Daugs runs a primary campaign for the office; if she does, she has my full support. And Irene Bowling? Cary Bozeman? Go for it, all of you.

    All this PCO asks, is that once the votes are counted, that you respect the will of the voters—

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