In Olympia, the Washington Legislature is grappling with a dire financial predicament, but the Senate must do without input from the 4th Legislative District, which includes Spokane Valley.
Normally, we’d want Spokane County commissioners to move quickly to fill the vacancy, which was left by veteran Sen. Bob McCaslin’s resignation due to health reasons. We’d want voters from this community to have their full measure of representation. Unfortunately, though, Spokane County Republican party leaders’ heavy-handedness has pushed the commissioners – all three of them Republicans, incidentally – into an awkward corner.
Under the state constitution, the commissioners have until March 4 to pick McCaslin’s replacement from a list of three 4th District Republicans identified by the party. Party figures clearly want second-term state Rep. Matt Shea, so precinct committee officers forwarded his name along with two virtual unknowns – one of whom is better known now, having been arrested last weekend in Las Vegas on a concealed weapons charge.
“If that’s supposed to be the cream of the crop,” County Commissioner and former state Rep. Todd Mielke has said about Shea, Roy Murry (of Las Vegas notoriety) and Jeff Baxter, “I’m not impressed.”
If the commissioners were enamored of Shea, whose ex-wife once obtained a protection order against him based on accusations of physical and emotional abuse, the questionable credentials of others on the list would be a side issue. But it’s evident from the diligent vetting process they are going through that they are not – yet they have no reasonable alternative.
Whom might the party representatives have put on the list? Former legislator and District Court Judge Mike Padden, for one. But he was deliberately bypassed, despite his own conservative 4th District credentials and the support of both McCaslin and popular former Rep. Lynn Schindler. Diana Wilhite, former Spokane Valley mayor and city councilwoman, was also in the running, as was recent county auditor candidate Leonard Christian.
But all three were rejected by the precinct officers in favor of Murry and small businessman Baxter, neither of whose preparedness for legislative service compares to Padden’s.
The Washington Constitution clearly gives county commissioners, not the party, the responsibility for choosing a replacement. The party leaders, most of whom are sticklers about following the constitution, tried to circumvent it this time. Murry’s legal issues shoved the commissioners’ dilemma into the spotlight, so much so that even county GOP Chairman Matt Pederson said the situation “warrants serious consideration.”
That’s an understatement. We hope “serious consideration” means coming up with a different list that includes three more qualified candidates. How such a revision could be handled is unclear, because there’s nothing to go on but a brief passage in the constitution.
For the sake of the 4th District and the rest of Spokane County, it’s important to make the attempt.