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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: Why Inslee doesn’t have to pick a Republican to fill Wyman’s spot

Secretary of State Kim Wyman gestures as she speaks after members of Washington’s Electoral College cast their 12 votes for President-elect Joe Biden at the State Capitol in Olympia on Dec. 14.  (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)
Secretary of State Kim Wyman gestures as she speaks after members of Washington’s Electoral College cast their 12 votes for President-elect Joe Biden at the State Capitol in Olympia on Dec. 14. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Gov. Jay Inslee has a big decision to make – probably sometime this month – to fill the secretary of state’s office as Kim Wyman heads off to work with the federal government on keeping the nation’s elections safe.

Wyman is the only Republican currently holding statewide office and Inslee, as the titular head of the state Democratic Party, will have to decide whether to appoint another Republican or shut the GOP out of statewide office entirely and name a Democrat.

But wait, some readers might be saying. Doesn’t he have to name a Republican? Someone from a list of possible nominees submitted by the Republican Party?

Nope.

For many partisan offices, that’s the case when the job becomes open for one reason or another. If another county partisan office becomes vacant, the county commissioners have to appoint someone from the same party.

Open legislative seats – which are the appointments that come up most frequently – are filled from a list of party nominees by the county commissioners where the district is located. If they can’t reach consensus, it goes to the governor.

The governor also appoints vacancies on a board of commissioners under some circumstances from a list of the party of the person who left. Last year, Inslee appointed a Republican, Chewelah Police Chief Mark Burrows, to the Stevens County board after the full board was ousted by court order.

The governor has the authority to fill statewide positions, but under the law there’s no requirement the replacement has to be from the same party as the person leaving.

Republicans can make a decent argument that Wyman’s replacement should be a Republican. For the last 56 years, voters have chosen a Republican for the job, even as they have filled most other seats in most elections with Democrats. That’s probably more of a tribute to the people running than their partisan leanings. Wyman and her predecessor Sam Reed worked hard at keeping partisanship out of elections, which is the most partisan part of the job.

Those 56 years aren’t a record for one party’s control of a statewide office, by the way. Democrats have filled the auditor’s job since 1933.

Just as Wyman resisted pressure from fellow Republicans for refusing to brook suggestions that the 2020 election was “stolen,” Reed handled the 2004 fight over the state’s closest gubernatorial race between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi with an even hand.

Before Republicans demand too loudly that Wyman’s replacement be a Republican, they should check to see whether they objected to Republican Gov. John Spellman’s appointment of Dan Evans to the U.S. Senate after Henry “Scoop” Jackson died. Democrats objected, of course, and threatened to rewrite state law to require a replacement be from the same party.

But the anger did not last long, for the simple reason that Evans, a former three-term governor, state legislator and college president, was eminently qualified to fill the void left by the Jackson, a 30-year veteran of the Senate. Plus, he won the special election a few months later, beating Democratic Rep. Mike Lowry.

Inslee could avoid griping from both sides – or at least receive it in equal shares – by appointing a competent person from within Wyman’s office without any strong partisan ties to run things until next November, when the job will be up in a special election. But what would be the fun of that?

Missing something

While some are criticizing and others are applauding Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich for spending $12,000 to advertise for new deputies in Times Square, Spin Control will only suggest that the sheriff should have spent more – if he spent anything – on a copy editor.

The big, bright, bold ads that make Spokane look like Las Vegas at Sunset say they are from “Spokane County Sheriff Washinton State.” It’s as if the department ran out of Gs while promising thousands to new hires.

Rare agreement?

Inslee and Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center often find themselves on opposite sides of the issue. Last week, however, they seemed to find themselves in a rare moment of agreement.

Inslee told a group of students on a TVW forum that he thought the state should have fewer statewide elected officials as a way of improving accountability for those in elective office. It’s a common refrain from chief executives. His predecessor Gregoire argued that the governor, not an elected superintendent of public instruction, should be ultimately responsible for education as they were likely to be held accountable for the schools.

Although the Center has been among the loudest critics of Inslee’s prolonged emergency management directives of the pandemic, Mercier did question whether electing nine statewide offices is the most effective way to structure government. Independent elected officials do their own lobbying of the Legislature and can even work against what the governor is trying to accomplish, he said.

He thinks the governor and lieutenant governor should run on a single ticket, and voters should also pick the state treasurer, auditor and attorney general. The other spots – secretary of state, insurance commissioner, lands commissioner and superintendent of public instruction – should be turned into appointive offices, he said.

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