Mike Padden – a judge, former legislator and answer to a presidential political trivia question – is retiring after 11 years on the bench.
Padden, 59, announced at a press conference Tuesday he won’t seek re-election to the Spokane County District Court and threw his support behind Deputy County Prosecutor Mark Laiminger, who was on hand to start his campaign for the now-open judicial seat.
In his 11 years as a judge, Padden said he’s worked hard to maintain a unified court in Spokane County, where the municipal court for the city of Spokane is joined with the county’s District Court. Most of the judges hear misdemeanor cases, including traffic and driving under the influence charges, whether the citation is written by a city, county or state law enforcement officer.
Voters rejected one effort to split off a municipal court to hear city cases, and a separate effort by Spokane city officials is currently before the state Supreme Court, he said.
Another major initiative, Padden said, has been to get quicker resolution to drunken driving cases, with longtime multiple offenders sent to a highly structured program that requires both employment and treatment. That program currently has 23 of the “worst of the worst” offenders in it, he said.
“I think the public realizes how significant DUIs are,” Padden said.
During his time on the bench, other district court judges twice elected Padden presiding judge of the district court. All members of the court face re-election to their four-year terms this fall.
“It’s been a very difficult decision for me not to run again,” Padden said, citing his age and a lack of “fire in the belly” for the decision to take himself out of elective office for the first time since 1980.
That was the year the 34-year-old conservative lawyer won a seat in the state House of Representatives in the Spokane Valley’s 4th Legislative District as part of a new Republican majority. An outspoken opponent of abortion and proponent of family values, Padden also promised to fight any tax increases and rein in government spending.
He was named vice chairman of the Law and Justice Committee, and held the top Republican spot on that panel for years when Republicans were in the minority. Padden had just won his eighth House term – and the Republicans had retaken the majority in the House – when District Judge Raymond Tanksley Jr., his former law partner, died of cancer of the esophagus. Padden gave up his spot as Law and Justice Committee chairman and majority floor leader for the appointment to the bench.
But it was four years before his initial electoral victory that Padden made his first political headlines, and became a footnote in presidential politics. If the Trivial Pursuit question is ever “Who was the first member of the Electoral College to vote for Ronald Reagan?”, the answer of Mike Padden will earn a wedge or another roll.
That’s because Padden cast a lone vote for Reagan in 1976, the year Washington state backed incumbent Gerald Ford but Democrat Jimmy Carter won the national election.
Padden, just two years out of Gonzaga Law School and the GOP elector from Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, cast a vote for Reagan as a sign of support for the former California governor’s strong anti-abortion stance. If Ford had “the remotest possibility of winning,” Padden said he’d have voted for the incumbent.
But Ford didn’t, and Padden didn’t, and the Electoral College results for the 1976 election show one vote for Reagan, sometimes with an asterisk that explains the vote was cast by a Washington elector.
Four years later, when he and other Republicans benefited from Reagan’s landslide victory, Padden was able to say he was merely ahead of his time.
Padden said Tuesday he plans to explore other opportunities, perhaps in business or private legal practice, while keeping busy as president of Spokane American Legion baseball and a member of the St. Charles Catholic Church council.
He might run for another office “down the road” but has no plans to enter any other race in 2006.
Laiminger, who has been a deputy prosecutor for 19 years, joins Spokane attorney John Cooney in the race for Padden’s seat. Candidates formally file for office the last week of July, and if only two candidates sign up for that seat, they will meet in the Nov. 7 general election. If three or more candidates file for the office, they’ll be in the Sept. 19 primary.