A squabble with possible partisan overtones has erupted between the King and Pierce County councils over the process to fill a vacant legislative seat.
Rebuffing a request for a joint meeting with its Republican-controlled Pierce County counterpart, the King County Council voted unanimously Monday to back Federal Way School Board President Carol Gregory for the 30th Legislative District seat vacated by the Oct. 29 death of Democratic Rep. Roger Freeman.
The unilateral action irritated the chairman of the Pierce County Council, who argues the pick should be made at a joint meeting of the two councils and has asked the state Attorney General’s office to intervene.
“In cases like this it’s more important to be right than to be fast,” Pierce County Council Chair Dan Roach said in a news release. He said the council will postpone any vote on the appointment until the AG’s office weighs in.
Because the 30th District includes parts of King and Pierce counties, the state constitution requires “joint action” of both county councils in such cases. Roach argues that means the two councils should literally meet together and vote at the same time, saying it’s happened before with other legislative vacancies.
But King County maintained it merely requires both councils to vote – separately or together. And the council wanted to move quickly before its scheduled holiday recess, which begins after next Monday’s meeting.
By law, the two councils have 60 days from the time of the vacancy to appoint a replacement. If they fail to agree, Gov. Jay Inslee gets to choose.
Under the state Constitution, such vacancies must be filled by a representative of the same political party – so there is no doubt Freeman’s seat will remain in Democratic hands. The county councils must pick from three finalists forwarded by Democratic party activists.
But the joint session called for by Roach could give Republicans more clout in the process. The Pierce County Council is comprised of five Republicans and two Democrats (the GOP majority will shrink to four seats next year). The King County Council includes five Democrats and four Republicans.
Gregory, a former teacher and former president of the Washington Education Association, was the top pick of Democratic activists who met earlier this month.
The Democrats second choice was Richard Champion, first-vice chair of the 30th District Democrats. Their third pick was Shari Song, who lost a 2014 state Senate bid to Mark Miloscia. All three contenders appeared before the King County Council for what amounted to a brief job interview Monday.