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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Senate opening spurs 5 to apply

Sen. Morton retiring from 7th District post

A county commissioner, a former legislator and a former legislative aide are among five applicants so far for an open state Senate seat in Northeast Washington’s 7th District.

The seat becomes open Jan. 1 when Sen. Bob Morton, a 22-year veteran legislator, retires halfway through his term. Republican precinct committee officers in the district will nominate as many as three possible replacements to the county commissioners from Spokane, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry and Okanogan counties, who must choose one through a majority vote.

The district’s two state representatives, Republicans Joel Kretz and Shelly Short, have said they won’t seek the Senate position.

Hopefuls can apply until precinct officers meet on Dec. 15 in Colville. At this point, GOP officials said they know of five actively seeking the job:

• Hunter Abell, 32, is an attorney who works for a Seattle law firm but has his permanent residency in Inchelium. He served as a Navy judge advocate general in Iraq and remains in the Navy Reserve. In a prepared statement describing his candidacy, he said it’s important to have a new generation of conservative leaders “at a time when Washington may arguably be the most liberal state in the country.”

• Brian Dansel, 29, is a Ferry County commissioner and the current board chairman. A Republic native, he’s a former golf pro and property manager who said he wants to work on developing the region’s natural resources without more environmental restrictions. “I want to make sure that government isn’t getting in the way of business.” If he’s a nominee, Dansel said he would abstain from the vote the commissioners will make to select the replacement, and if chosen he’ll give up his commission seat.

• Josh Kerns, 27, of Mead, a former legislative aide to state Rep. John Ahern, of Spokane, managed the campaign this year for Ahern’s elected replacement, Jeff Holy, and once served as an intern for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. He describes himself as an “action-oriented advocate of property rights” and someone who won’t take as much time to get accustomed to the job because of his experience as a legislative aide.

• John Serben, 44, owns a small used car lot in Spokane and lives between the city and Mead. He served one term in the state House of Representatives from Spokane’s 6th District, but like Kerns redistricting placed his home in the 7th District this year. He said he has spent plenty of time in the district, where he also has relatives, and knows it is more rural and “a wee bit more conservative” than the 6th.

• John Smith, 39, of Colville, is a former president of the Colville Chamber of Commerce who owns a small farm and a business consulting firm. He said he has lived in the district for 24 years and worked on issues that matter to its residents: “I know who the players are.”