The Spokane County Courthouse always is an iffy kind of place, but lately the chief activity in and around the castle seems to be speculation.
If state Rep. Mike Padden is named to fill the Spokane County District Court seat of his former law partner, Raymond Tanksley, will County Commissioner Steve Hasson want his House seat?
If Hasson, the Democrat-turned-Republican, asks the GOP to nominate him, could the party refuse?
And if Hasson were to depart the board before his term is up in 1997 - either for another political job or for any other reason - who gets to nominate his replacement? The Democratic Party, which was Hasson’s affiliation of choice while winning two primaries and general elections? Or the Republican Party, his newly announced political preference?
The answers, in order, are: No. Yes. And we’ll see you in court.
The speculation is so prevalent - and the legal ramifications of the last set of questions are so great - that Hasson is asking the county’s civil deputies to study the issue.
Which probably will just lead to more speculation.
“The only thing we know for sure is we have a judgeship to fill,” Hasson said.
Padden, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is a strong contender for Tanksley’s job - but not because of any deal struck between Hasson and the GOP, the commissioner said. He’s no shoo-in.
“He’s got to run against everyone else and fare well in the bar (association) poll,” Hasson said. “I have not promised that job to him.”
The rumor mill may have cranked up because Hasson announced his party switch the day of Tanksley’s funeral, but that was a coincidence, Hasson said. “I didn’t even know Mike was interested in the job.”
Because the appointee will have to run in the November election, one of Hasson’s criteria is electability. He wants to avoid turnover on the court and doesn’t want to waste hours of reviewing judicial prospects by picking someone the voters won’t like.
Padden, who has won election every other year since 1980, can lay claim to being more electable than almost anyone else in the county.
But if Padden leaves the House for the courthouse, Hasson swears he won’t switch jobs. He might run for the state Senate in 1996 - and might seek an appointment to the 4th District seat if it became open - but isn’t eager to leave his current job. Having Phil Harris, his new political ally, on the board makes the job too enjoyable, he said.
Hasson probably couldn’t get the party’s nomination for the House seat, anyway, said Spokane County Republican Chairman Duane Sommers. The precinct committee officers would nominate three candidates, and the commissioners must choose from that list.
He “hasn’t been active in the party enough” to count on the support of the precinct officers, Sommers said. The list of Republicans ready to apply for Padden’s seat already is getting long.
If the Senate seat became open in the next two years, the party regulars might not even nominate Hasson for that job, the GOP chairman added.
“His best possibility is if (Sen. Bob) McCaslin finishes his term and Steve runs for the seat.”
If Hasson leaves office for any reason before his term ends - admittedly, this is many ifs down the road - one thing is sure. Both parties will claim the right to nominate his replacement.
“The people elected him as a Democrat,” said Frank Malone, an attorney and the Democratic state committeeman for Spokane County. “The law looks to carry out the will of the people.”
“That’s past history,” said Sommers. “It’s the current status that counts.”
In Washington state, voters do not register by party. Hasson has nothing to show his current status other than his announcement, Malone said.
“He could announce he’s a Libertarian tomorrow,” Malone said.
Each party nominating Hasson’s replacement would set up an interesting political dilemma. Without Hasson, the board would consist of one Democrat and one Republican. It could be expected to deadlock over the replacement, which would mean the appointment would fall to Gov. Mike Lowry, a Democrat.
If Lowry appointed a Democrat, the county GOP would challenge the decision in court. The Democrats would do the same in the unlikely event Lowry named a Republican.
A court challenge is more than a mere nuisance. If the appointment process was ruled invalid, any decision in which that commissioner was a deciding vote could be ruled void.
The political parties and the secretary of state’s office say if this particular situation occurs, it probably would be a first.
Hasson said the potential for controversy is so great that he will ask the county’s chief civil deputy, Jim Emacio, to draft an opinion of what would happen if he couldn’t finish out his term for any reason.
“I’ve caused enough problems,” he said. “I don’t need to have this lingering malaise. And I certainly don’t want them to fight over my bones if I’m gone.”