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Hundreds of votes missed

Emergencies kept lawmakers away from Olympia

OLYMPIA – With the Legislature more than a week adjourned, the government watchdog group Washington Votes has released its annual statistics about the number of bills introduced and passed, the votes taken and the votes missed.

Topping the list of missed House votes was Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane Valley, who usually is far down in that accounting. He missed 143 votes in the regular and special sessions because of medical problems.

“In the past 16 years, I don’t think I missed that many votes, total,” Crouse said in an interview this week.

He had back surgery in October and his back started acting up again after the session started. “It was miserable,” he said. “It got so bad that I had to schedule surgery again. I didn’t have a choice.”

He scheduled the surgery for May, which would have been weeks after adjournment had the Legislature finished on time. Instead, the surgery fell in the middle of the special session. He made it in several days while recuperating, but otherwise stayed away.

“I was in contact, on the phone, with leadership. If they needed me there, I would be there,” he said. As it turned out, there weren’t many of the 714 roll call votes in the House that were close.

No. 4 on the list for House members was John Ahern, R-Spokane, with 66 missed votes. Ahern returned to the Legislature after a term off, and had a better voting record in previous sessions.

“I had a couple of family emergencies, two hospitalizations,” he said Thursday. First his wife was ill, then his son was in a car accident, and Ahern was in Spokane during those votes. He said he entered into the House record how he would have voted had he been there.

Topping the Senate list was Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, who told the organization many of the 120 votes he missed were a result of being away for the unexpected death of his father. Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, was second with 79 votes. Some were a result of the “unforeseeable conflicts due to the nature of special sessions,” he said, while others occurred during votes that weren’t close and he chose to be off the floor “to meet with constituents who have come to see me.”

Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, missed 36 of the 648 Senate votes cast, and Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, missed 30. But that put them 10th and 13th from the top, respectively.

Several Spokane-area legislators had perfect scores. Those who made every roll call vote included House Republicans Joel Kretz of Wauconda, Joe Schmick of Colfax, Matt Shea of Spokane Valley and Shelly Short of Addy, as well as Democrats Andy Billig and Timm Ormsby, both of Spokane. So did Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

Having a perfect voting record in the Senate is a bit more difficult, because senators must be present to vote by voice when the roll call is taken. The House votes by machine connected to the Yes and No buttons on each member’s desk. Votes often take less than a minute, although it is possible for a representative who is off the floor to leave instructions with a seatmate about which button to push.

But representatives must be in the chamber that day. They can’t call in a vote from Spokane after watching the debate on TVW, the Washington State Public Affairs Network.

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