Harper, visibly relieved as the political drama played out on the opening day of the 2011 session, let loose a wide smile as he walked up to be sworn into office.
“It was an emotional moment. Very emotional,” Harper recalled later.
Harper will now begin a four-year term as the senator serving residents of Everett, Marysville and Tulalip living in the 38th Legislative District.
His parents, Keith and Jeinell Harper of Port Townsend watched from the front row of the gallery. As their son lifted his right hand to be sworn in, his mom moved to the edge of her seat, clasped her hands together and fought back tears.
Later, she would say how proud she was of how her son has dealt with a “difficult introduction to politics.”
Difficult and nearly historic.
Only once in state history had the Senate used its constitutional power to prevent the winner of an election from taking office. That came in 1941, when Democrat Lenus Westman of Arlington wasn’t seated because of his ties to the Communist Party.
State Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, sought Monday to do it again. He drew up a resolution to bar Harper from office and declare the 38th District seat vacant.
But he couldn’t muster enough votes to bring it to the floor; his motion failed 23-18 as 20 Democrats and three Republicans united against Kastama’s motion.
Harper, who spoke with Kastama on Saturday, said there no hard feelings.
“I know that he didn’t hold a grudge against me, and I certainly don’t expect to hold one against him or any other members who voted on the other side of this motion,” Harper said.
Kastama had contended that political allies of Harper knowingly conspired to deceive voters in the August 2010 primary in which Harper and conservative Rod Rieger beat incumbent Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett.
An investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission found those forces had masked their identity and concealed the source of money used to pay for mailers and phone calls in support of Rieger, the Republican candidate, an effort carried out at the same time they were spending money in support of Harper.
The state has sued the Seattle political consultant behind the effort, Moxie Media.
Kastama said the Senate should act to give voters a valid election with valid choices by leaving the seat vacant and letting Democrats in Snohomish County appoint someone to the post.
To not act, he said, would send a message to voters that “no matter how bad the election was, no matter how corrupt it was, we will seat the person with the most votes.”
Sen Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, said, “What happened to Senator Berkey is horrible. What Moxie Media did was deplorable.”
But Harper is not accused of any wrongdoing, and to punish him in this manner would be wrong, she said. The courts should decide the matter, she said.
Moreover, she wasn’t ready to conclude voters had been deceived.
“Who are we to tell the (people who voted for Harper) that they didn’t know what in the world they were doing when they were voting,” she said.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, were two of those who supported bringing Kastama’s resolution to a vote.
Hobbs said he felt the Senate had the “constitutional duty” to take up the question, but he would have voted against the resolution because it seemed the courts are the right place to resolve the legal questions.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.
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