OLYMPIA – To the unpracticed political eye, the dog days of summer might have been declared last week when what’s left of the Capitol press corps showed up for the swearing-in of a replacement legislator who might never cast a vote from the floor of the Senate.
But this was not some little-known partisan retainer getting the “thrill” of sticking Sen. in front of his name for a few months. Dino Rossi was raising one hand, putting the other on a Bible and swearing to uphold the U.S. and state constitutions, and the other things legislators-to-be must promise before crossing to the realm of legislators who are.
Rossi, the guy some Republicans still say really won the 2004 governor’s race – which probably makes them no more, and no less, sore losers than Democrats who insist Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election. Rossi, the guy who tried again in 2008 and lost that grudge match outright, and carried the GOP banner against Patty Murray in the 2010 Senate race.
After the right hand came down, the left hand came off the Bible and he had repaired to the Senate GOP caucus room for a chat with reporters, Rossi insisted he had no plans to run for anything again. He’s just helping out the party in its time of need, he said, and can’t run for the seat, even as a write-in, because he was moved into another district by this year’s redrawing of boundary lines.
But there was plenty of West Side political intrigue stirring the pot. Between now and the November election, Rossi will warm the seat vacated by Sen. Cheryl Pflug, who was appointed to the seat when Rossi left it to run for governor the first time, then won it herself a couple times. The Maple Valley Republican announced she was stepping down in May, just days after filing for the August primary closed, to take a job offer from Gov. Chris Gregoire on the Growth Management Hearings Board. While taking an appointment from a Democratic governor might be a venial sin, and doing it after filing closed a mortal one, Pflug committed political sacrilege by endorsing the Democrat in the race over the Republican who had filed to run against her.
She wasn’t happy about turning over the office’s “constituent services” – the help a legislator or her staff gives folks in the district who call with some complaint or problem about state government – to Rossi. But she was particularly torqued that GOP officials had recruited Rossi out of political retirement, and, she contended, leaned on precinct officers to nominate him and the King County Council to appoint him.
State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur was peeved at Pflug for taking the appointment. Or as he put it in a press release, “a backroom deal for a cushier position as a bureaucrat, (that) makes her a hypocrite, plain and simple.” The appointment means the district will “finally be represented by someone who reflects their values.” (Voters in the 5th Legislative District, who have been electing Pflug since she ran for the House in 1998, apparently have been laboring under a misconception for years.)
While Wilbur didn’t spell out the “deal,” some West Side Republicans contend Pflug was rewarded for a yes vote on same-sex marriage legislation. But that ignores the fact that Gregoire by law had to appoint a Republican to the hearings board, the two women get along well, and both sides say there was no deal. (Republicans might also want to be careful about disparaging “deals,” considering that in a Vancouver-area district, Joe Zarelli exited the Senate on the last day of candidate filing, and Rep. Ann Rivers was prepared to file for his seat rather than hers just minutes before the clock ran out. Such circumstances hardly seem merely fortuitous.)
Pflug fired back that she didn’t even think about applying for the hearings board until weeks after the same-sex marriage vote, and called party officials within minutes of being offered the job. She hadn’t changed parties and was supporting Rob McKenna for governor, but she wasn’t going to be “bullied” by party officials. She’s still backing a Democrat over a Republican for her old seat, insisting he’s the better candidate.
Longtime politicos in Spokane might remember that the 5th District used to be one of ours until the 1990 redistricting transported it to the other side of the mountains. Before any of them opine that we would have maintained it with more decorum, last year’s filling of the Senate seat in the 4th suggests maybe not.