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Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011, 9:03 p.m.

Senator will try to block Nick Harper from being seated

OLYMPIA – After weeks of uncertainty, it is clear Everett Democrat Nick Harper will face a fight for his seat in the state Senate on Monday.
And another Democrat is starting it.
State Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said late Thursday he will try to bar Harper from being sworn into office because he’s convinced Harper’s triumph is a result of illegal actions by his political allies.
“This is not about Nick Harper. This is not a personal attack against him,” Kastama said. “This is about the integrity of the election.”
Kastama said what political consultant Moxie Media did in the August primary – some of which is now the target of a lawsuit by the attorney general – deceived voters and altered the outcome.
He said the Senate would “abrogate its constitutional responsibility” if it did not keep the seat vacant until a do-over election can be held.
Moxie Media of Seattle played on both sides of the political fence in its effort to oust incumbent state Sen. Jean Berkey in the primary.
First, it ran an expensive and high profile independent campaign financed mostly by organized labor to boost Harper. In the waning days of the primary election, it secretly produced mailers to push the candidacy of conservative Rod Rieger. The attorney general has since sued the company for allegedly concealing its role in funding the pro-Rieger mailers.
Berkey finished behind them both in the top-two primary, falling 122 votes shy of Rieger. Harper won in November for a four-year term serving residents of Everett, Marysville and Tulalip in the 38th Legislative District.
Kastama is convinced Rieger didn’t finish second without Moxie Media’s push.
“The documents I have seen, including signed affidavits, show there is no doubt that Moxie Media’s actions were illegal and that they were responsible for changing the outcome of the election,” Kastama said in a prepared statement.
News of Kastama’s announcement didn’t sit well with Harper who joined other incoming lawmakers at a Thursday night dinner hosted by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The theme of the evening, he said, was how lawmakers seek collegiality over politics and mutually respect each other’s efforts to best serve the needs of the state’s residents.
“This press release today strikes me that if this is the discussion on Monday, they’re choosing politics over productivity,” he said. “I was elected to do the state’s business and that’s what I’m planning to do when I show up on Monday.”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, strongly opposes any attempt to prevent the seating of Harper. She’s repeatedly said allegations against Moxie Media – and whether they affected the 2010 election -- should be dealt with in the courts and not on the floor of the Senate.
She drove home the point in a strongly worded letter Tuesday to Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. Last month Hewitt said he didn’t want Harper seated until the court proceedings are done.
“There is no rationale offered for not seating Senator-elect Harper that is not transparently political,” she wrote in the letter that went to every other senator.
Continuing, she wrote, “Voting to unseat a duly elected member of the body would create a divisive, poisonous atmosphere on the very first day of the legislative session.”
Though Kastama’s been considering this step for weeks, he has not been lobbying for votes in his caucus or the Republican caucus.
He thought someone else would take the lead but said it seemed many colleagues feared retribution if they brought it forward.
“I concluded someone had to do it,” he said.
State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said Thursday she will support the resolution.
“What was done was wrong. People were cheated out of the truth,” she said.
Procedurally, Kastama may not get a chance to force a vote. He said he first needs a majority of senators to agree to let him introduce his resolution. If he succeeds, then he can put it forward for action.
Only once in state history have senators used their constitutional power to bar the winner of an election from taking office. That came in 1941 when Democrat Lenus Westman of Arlington didn’t get seated because of his ties to the Communist Party.
Kastama said he’s heard members express concern about leaving the seat open and those Snohomish County residents unrepresented.
“I think the people in the 38th deserve a valid election. They were deceived,” he said. “I think they deserve a good election.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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