OLYMPIA – Speculation that Gov. Chris Gregoire might be named to replace Solicitor General Elena Kagan raises the prospect of falling political dominoes in Washington state.
If the governor’s mansion were suddenly up for grabs this year, candidates could be jumping in or out of races for the U.S. Senate and House.
Seattle political consultant Christian Sinderman said that a Gregoire appointment would accelerate the timeline for anyone looking at the governor’s race in 2012.
“You can imagine all the people trying to seize the moment of a shortened election cycle and jumping in,” said Sinderman, who works for Democratic candidates.
President Barack Obama nominated Kagan for the Supreme Court on Monday. Almost immediately, there were whispers of Gregoire being on a short list of candidates. An official within the Obama administration confirmed Wednesday that Gregoire was among those being considered to replace Kagan, assuming she is confirmed by the Senate. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.
Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis said no one from the White House has talked to Gregoire about the job, which, essentially, is to be the president’s lawyer before the Supreme Court.
“She hasn’t even been approached about it or talked to about it, so there’s nothing for her to consider,” he said. “Right now she’s doing her job serving the state and is happy doing that.”
Last year, amid talk she was in line for a White House job, Gregoire told reporters she ran for re-election in 2008 because she wanted to be governor: “I made it clear early on I would not accept an appointment.”
It’s not clear if her response would be different this time.
Gregoire has an extensive legal background. She got her law degree in 1977 from Gonzaga University. She worked as an attorney in the state attorney general’s office from 1977 to 1988. And she was elected state attorney general in 1992. She served in that role nearly 12 years before running for governor in 2004.
According to the attorney general’s office, she personally argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court during her career there. She won all of them.
The potential for last-minute campaign chaos has some political observers saying they’d be surprised if a decision is made before the November elections, especially since a search for a replacement won’t even begin until after Kagan is confirmed, which might not happen until later this summer.
“The administration is going to be very mindful about when they announce someone and when the confirmation timeline will be so that it doesn’t upset any Democratic incumbents,” said University of Washington political science professor Matt Barreto.
If Gregoire were to be appointed, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, also a Democrat, would become governor until a special election was held, though depending on the timing, he could also serve until the 2012 elections.
If Gregoire resigned before June 1, there would be a special election primary and general election. If she resigned between June 1 and Oct. 3, there would be a special winner-take-all election held in November, said Katie Blinn, assistant director of elections.
Democrats who have been mentioned as potential gubernatorial candidates are U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, of Spokane. On the Republican side, Attorney General Rob McKenna has long been considered a favorite to run for governor, as has former two-time gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, who is currently considering a run against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
Republican political consultant Chris Vance said that Republicans would benefit from a Gregoire appointment.
“The Republicans would love a shot at a U.S. Senate seat and a governor’s seat in the same year,” he said.