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Washington state's 26th Legislative District is the singlemost swing district in the state. It's a slightly Republican-leaning district (R+0) in which two of our three state legislators - the state Senator and one of the two state Representatives - are Democratic. Our state Senator just won election to Washington's 6th Congressional District, replacing the retiring Norm Dicks. This diary series will chronicle the process to replace him from the insider's viewpoint of an elected Precinct Committee Officer who will be voting by signed official ballot on the selection of his replacement in the state Senate.

I'm the elected Precinct Committee Officer, the lowest rank of Democratic Party elected official in Washington state, for a precinct in south Kitsap County, half of Washington's 26th Legislative District (LD), the most swing district in the state. The state is entirely vote-by-mail, and elections aren't certified as final this year until December 6, two days from now. Since our current state Senator, Derek Kilmer, won his bid to be elected to the US House of Representatives from Washington's 6th Congressional Distrct last month to replace retiring longterm Congressman Norm Dicks, he is widely expected to resign his seat on the 6th or shortly thereafter.

When a sitting legislator or elected government official at any level resigns his or her seat or otherwise cannot serve the remainder of his or her term, there is a defined process to replace that person. If more than a short period of time will pass before the term expires, there will, at some point, be a special election, but before that happens, a person will be appointed to fill that seat. In this series, I propose to present an inside view of the process as it occurs.

Soon-to-be former state Senator and newly-elected Congressman Derek Kilmer is a Democrat, which, according to state law, means that a Democrat must be appointed to fill his seat once he resigns. This is a responsibility which the law initially gives to the elected Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs) from both the relevant political party and relevant jurisdiction, for offices up to and including state Senate. (I believe that statewide offices in which a vacancy occurs during an unexpired term are, at least initially, handled by the relevant party's state committee.) The PCOs vote on signed, public-record ballots as representatives of their precincts and choose a set of three candidates, ranking them in order of how early they were chosen and the number of votes each received. The party organization then submits these three candidates to the appropriate body of elected officials, requesting, in most cases, that the body of electeds choose the PCOs' first-choice candidate. These electeds must choose one of the three submitted candidates but are not bound to choose the highest-ranked candidate. They may appoint any one of the three.

If the body of electeds is unable to reach a decision on a candidate, the choice of appointee falls to the governor. Again, he or she must choose from among the three candidates the PCOs have selected. Neither the body of electeds nor the governor is permitted to choose anyone except one of the three candidates the PCOs have submitted.

In the four prior selections in which I have been involved in my more than eight years as a PCO, the positions have been Kitsap County positions and the meeting has been called by the chair of the Kitsap County Democrats. In all cases, the body of electeds to whom the PCOs' chosen candidates were submitted was the Kitsap County Commissioners, including both times in which the vacancy was on the County Commissioners. Great selections by the PCOs resulted in the County Commissioners choosing each time to appoint the highest ranked candidate, which has resulted in each appointee winning elections and holding onto the seat.

This time the scope is larger in quite a few ways. Our district is unusual in that it is composed of parts of two counties, Kitsap County and Pierce County. The meeting will therefore be called by the chair of the Washington State Democrats, Dwight Pelz, and all the elected PCOs in the legislative district will have a vote. The candidates list is then submitted to a specially convened combined body of the Pierce County Council and the Kitsap County Commissioners. There are seven members of the Pierce County Council, a majority of them Republicans, and three members of the Kitsap County Commissioners, all of them Democrats. Each county's body of elected officials has an equal weight in the vote. As in other selection processes, if this combined body of electeds is unable to reach a decision, in this case after 60 days, the governor will make the appointment. Both the outgoing governor, Christine Gregoire, and the newly elected governor, Jay Inslee, are Democrats.

Another way in which our district is unusual is that we have a candidate search committee, a non-elected body comprised of members selected by the 26th LD Democrats' chair. All candidates must answer and submit a detailed questionnaire; they are then interviewed by the committee. In most cases, the committee will make a recommendation as to which candidate is best qualified. Anyone seeking the party's endorsement must also answer the questionnaire, and all candidates running for re-election in the district must submit the questionnaire and re-undergo the interview process.

When it comes to the candidates for appointment to the state Senate, however, the candidate search committee will present the pros and cons of each candidate without ranking them, allowing the PCOs to make their selections based on their own criteria. Each candidate will be rated with one of three ratings: highly qualified, qualified, and not ready. There are multiple candidates in each category.

It has been proposed that the meeting to select the candidates for appointment be closed to the public and the press, with only elected PCOs, candidates, and convening officials permitted to be present. As the pros and cons of each candidate will be presented, as was determined by the 26th LD Democrats' executive board, some feel that the opportunity for Republicans and outside interests to do opposition research is too great if members of the public or the press are included. I believe that the entire process must be as transparent as possible; the more sunshine, the better the citizens of the legislative district are served. This exclusion of the press and the public is one of my motivations in writing this series.

Tonight I will stand for re-election as our LD's state committeewoman at our biennial reorganization meeting. All Democratic party organizations in the state hold a reorganization meeting every two years, at which time every office in the party organization is up for election. Changes in the party's officers may affect how the selection process is conducted with respect to such things as openness to the press and members of the public.

Part 2, coming soon, will address what happens after someone is appointed. Also expect to see the inner workings of the candidate selection meeting itself in another part, including commentary on the candidates.

Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 12:42 AM PT: There are also appointed PCOs. An appointed PCO considers him or herself to be a member of the appropriate party and either lives in a precinct with no elected PCO but didn't seek election, or lives in a precinct which already has an elected PCO but agrees to serve as non-resident PCO for a district that has no PCO (of which there are many here). There are times when all PCOs may vote, but this selection process is not one of them; this is restricted to elected PCOs, who must all, by law, reside within their precincts.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (29+ / 0-)

    Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

    Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

    by Kitsap River on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 12:27:10 PM PST

  •  Good Luck River (6+ / 0-)

    Sounds like it could be a lot of work, hope there are fruitful results.

    BTW, why is it EVERY time I travel to the Peninsula to pick up day care furniture, it's pouring down rain??????

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 01:37:32 PM PST

    •  Probably because we get more rain here. (5+ / 0-)

      Remember the rain that wouldn't end in late 1998 - early 1999? I think Seattle got over 85 days of rain nonstop. Over here, we got 105 days of rain nonstop as well as some snow.

      Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

      Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

      by Kitsap River on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 01:43:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nope, only been here since 2005 (2+ / 0-)

        and already I've seen the climate change.  Haven't needed the AC since 2009.

        At least on this trip, I had a bus instead of a pickup truck to haul stuff in.

        “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

        by markdd on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 01:59:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Best of luck! (3+ / 0-)

    Nice to see Kossacks getting involved in the process rather than just bitching about it in bits and bytes.

    "If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now" -- Rev. William Barber, NAACP

    by Cali Scribe on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 01:56:52 PM PST

  •  yikes it's complicated but u seem top/lucid (2+ / 0-)

    clime parches on. terms: ocean rise, weather re-patterning, storm pathology, drout-famine, acceptance of nature.

    by renzo capetti on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 01:57:26 PM PST

    •  Thanks, renzo! (3+ / 0-)

      I'm not on the candidate search committee, but I am on the executive board of this organization as its state committeewoman, and we've been talking about and working on the process since September. I've also been through it four times before at a lower level, which is a oretty high number; these opportunities don't generally come often.

      The way the law about unexpired term appointments is written is designed to leave as much control as possible in the hands of the affected organization and gives a great deal of responsibility to those at the precinct level, as local as you can get. The PCOs are accountable to their precincts for the way we vote. Since we represent our precincts in this process, we sign our ballots and print our names on them, and anyone in our precincts can look up our votes.

      Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

      Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

      by Kitsap River on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 02:38:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nishime, when you get a chance: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ZenTrainer, Kitsap River

    ZenTrainer is looking for you - she wants to place an order. :-)

    Authentic Native American silverwork, jewelry, photography, and other art here.

    by Aji on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 05:12:49 PM PST

    •  And there she is. Comment below yours. (0+ / 0-)

      I've got to get my ass in gear and get her order out.

      Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

      Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

      by Kitsap River on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 12:17:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  P.S., Nimisenh, I got re-elected. (0+ / 0-)

      Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

      Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

      by Kitsap River on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 12:20:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  OT, did you get my order for 4 jars of jam (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kitsap River

    and my address to ship it to? I Kosmailed it to you.

    I mean I'm all for good Senators, but this is JAM we're talking about here.

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

    by ZenTrainer on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 05:14:38 PM PST

  •  Neat, thank you for sharing this bit (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kitsap River

    of nuts and bolts of process and what really happens behind the scenes.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 06:35:37 PM PST

  •  Technically (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kitsap River, CF of Aus

    Because of the way that PVI works, an EVEN (R+0 or D+0) district is actually not 50/50 between the two parties.

    That is because we aren't measuring relative to a series of two 50/50 elections, but instead are measuring relative to two elections where the Republican won 51.2% (two party vote is what matters) and then the Democrat won 53.7%.

    As such, any district which we label EVEN is going to actually be 1.25% more Democratic than 50/50 in 04/08 numbers.

    At is currently stands, we have the 2012 Presidential with Obama at 51.85%, and in 08/12 PVIs an EVEN district will actually be about 2.8% more Democratic than 50/50.

    Those are some big advantages  

    https://docs.google.com/...

    22 Burkean Post Modern Gay Democrat; NM-2 (Raised), TX-20 (B.A. & M.A. in Political Science), TX-17 (Home); 08/12 PVIs

    by wwmiv on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 10:14:46 PM PST

    •  Very VERY (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kitsap River

      Good diary. I forgot to say, sorry about that.

      :P

      22 Burkean Post Modern Gay Democrat; NM-2 (Raised), TX-20 (B.A. & M.A. in Political Science), TX-17 (Home); 08/12 PVIs

      by wwmiv on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 10:15:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  yeah, an R+2 district is still one that Obama (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kitsap River

      probably won twice.  In fact, that's exactly the case with the neighboring state house district to mine.

      ...better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity, than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. -FDR, 1936

      by James Allen on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 10:22:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  We are a very slightly R-leaning district (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wwmiv

      and decidedly the most swing district even after redistricting (ours is controlled by a 5-person bipartisan commission, where the chair doesn't get a vote). I wish we were more Democratic. As it stands, the only way to win is outsmart and outwork the Rs.

      Did not know the above about district math. Thanks!

      Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

      Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

      by Kitsap River on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 12:16:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What I meant by it (0+ / 0-)

        was to say that the district is not slightly R-leaning, but actually slightly D-leaning if it is EVEN, or even if it is R+1 or R+2 in standard Cook PVI.

        22 Burkean Post Modern Gay Democrat; NM-2 (Raised), TX-20 (B.A. & M.A. in Political Science), TX-17 (Home); 08/12 PVIs

        by wwmiv on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 03:01:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I.E. (0+ / 0-)

          You'd have to get up into R+3 (iffy even there given that the national numbers for 08/12 standard PVIs are 2.75% off of 50/50) and normally to R+4 and R+5 to even be considered slightly R-leaning.

          22 Burkean Post Modern Gay Democrat; NM-2 (Raised), TX-20 (B.A. & M.A. in Political Science), TX-17 (Home); 08/12 PVIs

          by wwmiv on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 03:02:43 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  A couple of important points (0+ / 0-)

    First, this appointment is highly important for the entire state, not just the 26th Legislative District.  Currently, the WA State Senate is comprised of 26 Democrats and 23 Republicans.  That sounds safe enough, except 2 of the Democrats often vote like Republicans.  That leaves the actual balance in flux.  The very popular Republican State Representative has already announced she will run in the 2013 election to fill the last year of the senate term--whomever is appointed to the State Senate will likely be her opponent and determination of the balance of power lies directly in the 26th Legislative District.  All political eyes are on the PCOs of the 26th as this appointment is made and will continue next November.  The Republican, although she is a total lightweight, will be hard to beat and would be even if she weren't ALEC's State Legislator of the Year for 2012.  She'll attract dump truckloads of money.  

    So it is crucial that a candidate capable of winning that election is appointed. None of those seeking the appointment have much if any name recognition, which means he (no women are seeking the appointment) will be starting a few hundred yards behind the R.  Also, the Republican has in excess of $40K in her campaign treasury, which she will easily be able to transfer over to her Senate race.  Next November's election will draw obscene amounts of money to both candidates' coffers and there stands to be huge independent expenditures (read this to mean countless attack ads by SuperPACs).  

    To win the election, the Democratic appointee needs to be able to raise a ton of money from locals and attract hundreds of thousands of $$ from outsiders and regulated PACs, make a splash during the legislative session to increase name recognition, and knock on several thousand doors in the district and impress all those voters.  This is a tall order and no one stands out as checking all those boxes.

    Additionally, the now former Chair of the 26th Legislative District Democrats (as of Dec. 4th) is one of the candidates for the appointment.  He is the person who appointed the committee that is interviewing candidates and making recommendations to the PCOs.  Also, he is the ringleader of the effort to keep this appointment in the dark.  Fortunately, a couple of people in the executive board (Kitsap River, definitely) have quashed this, as River's diary post indicates.  Still, it has tainted the process in the eyes of many Democrats and political writers following this race and especially has tainted the former Chair with the stench of corruption.  If he wins, which he well may due to the misguided loyalty of the several politically naive PCOs entrusted with this important duty, he's provided potentially lethal ammunition for the Republicans.  

    It will be an adventure.

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