OLYMPIA – One of the first things the Legislature should do when it returns in January is vote to impeach absent State Auditor Troy Kelley, four lawmakers said.
A resolution calling for Kelley’s impeachment was filed Monday, with sponsors saying it is totally separate from any criminal prosecution he is facing in federal court.
Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, said the issue involves Kelley taking an indefinite unpaid leave of absence from the job last April and turning his duties over to an unelected assistant. He has since resisted calls from legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee to resign.
A draft copy of the resolution alleges Kelley “willfully abandoned” his position, resulting in dereliction of duty.
“This cannot be cured by his returning to office,” MacEwen said.
Angelo Calfo, Kelley’s attorney for the federal charges, said his client would comment on the impeachment resolution after he has reviewed it.
Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, said Kelley’s inability to return to his elected job for so many months amounts to malfeasance. “It’s just time to move on,” he said.
Kelley was in federal court in Tacoma last week for a hearing on whether money the federal government seized from his accounts should be returned to him. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled it should be held in a trust account controlled by Calfo and scheduled his trial on fraud charges for March. The impeachment resolution is not directly related to the indictment, Calfo said.
Sponsors want the House to vote on the impeachment resolution as early as the first week of the 2016 session, which would send the issue to the Senate for a trial. The resolution requires a simple majority to pass, conviction in the Senate trial requires a two-thirds majority. If that happens, Gov. Jay Inslee would appoint a successor to serve until votes are counted in the general election, which includes the auditor and all other statewide executive offices.
A decision on when to schedule a vote on the resolution would be up to Democrats who hold a two-seat majority in the House, but it won’t be made until closer to the time legislators convene on Jan. 11, House officials said. But a bigger question is how the Senate would conduct the trial, MacEwen said.
“There isn’t a lot of precedent,” he said. The only time a state executive was impeached was in 1909, when the House voted unanimously to impeach Insurance Commissioner John Schively but the Senate failed to get the needed votes to convict him.
If the Senate removes Kelley from office, Inslee would appoint a replacement who would serve through the November election. He could appoint a fellow Democrat who is running for the post, possibly giving that candidate an advantage in the election, but MacEwen said ousting Kelley is the right thing “regardless of what the political considerations are.”
Republican state Sen. Mark Miloscia, who ran unsuccessfully for the post in 2012 as a Democrat, has filed with the Public Disclosure Commission to raise money for a 2016 campaign. On Monday, Seattle attorney Jeff Sprung, a former federal prosecutor, filed to run for the post as a Democrat.