By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
Whoever wins this year’s special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee can count on a nice salary and decent benefits for a month’s work in arguably the world’s most powerful political institution.
This temporary job pays roughly $15,000 and comes with a medical plan, an assigned parking place, a bus pass and all the privileges bestowed upon members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Voters living in the existing 1st District — which include south Snohomish County, parts of King County and all of Kitsap County — will pick a person to serve the final month of Inslee’s term.
Though the eventual officeholder won’t qualify for a pension, they can expect in their short tenure to make decisions on the nation’s economy and security for years to come as Congress will act on critical tax bills and defense spending.
Yet the allure of perks and power aren’t attracting any takers. So far no Democrat or Republican has said publicly he or she will seek the 1st Congressional District seat Inslee, a Democrat, vacated to campaign for governor. His chief foe is Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican.
Candidates can file for the federal seat starting May 14 and officials of the state Democratic and Republican parties are confident they’ll be represented well.
“We expect to find a candidate that Democrats can rally around,” said Benton Strong, communications director for the state party.
State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur sounded equally sure a solid GOP candidate will step forward when the time comes.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There will be a capable, competent and qualified candidate who will step forward.”
The hesitance of potential candidates stems from the entanglement of this special election with the regularly scheduled election in the district’s new boundaries drawn up through redistricting.
Voters residing in its newly configured district will elect a representative for a full two-year term.
The redrawn district covers an area from the Canadian border south to King County communities of Kirkland and Redmond. It passes through southern and eastern parts of Snohomish County. About 40 percent of the new district is also in the old one.
Right now, seven people are vying for the two-year term and each of them is also weighing the value of running in the special election.
Another reason no one’s jumping at the opportunity to be a temporary member of Congress is it requires a sizable investment of time and money for a very limited gig.
Candidates must fork out $1,740 for the filing fee. Then it’s off to campaign for the Aug. 7 primary. The top two finishers face off Nov. 6.
Results of the November election will be certified by the state Dec. 6 and the winner could be sworn into office within 24 hours. Their term will end Jan. 3, 2013 when the new Congress convenes.
The winner will earn about $15,000, about one-twelfth of the annual salary of a House member, and be able to sign up for health insurance coverage offered federal workers.
He or she will be allotted a sum of money, known as the Members Representational Allowance, to operate their office and serve constituents.
Based on the 2011 disbursement for Inslee’s office, the sum could be in the neighborhood of $100,000.
How those dollars can be spent is detailed in a members’ handbook. Options range from hiring staff to paying for business cards, a coffeemaker or even decorations of nominal value to spiff up the office.
New furniture, however, is not on the list of allowed expenses. Chairs and desks will be awaiting them.
If there is enough money available, they could send out “franked” mail like a newsletter to thousands of constituents.
When the time goes to leave office, their four weeks won’t get them a pension, but there is something they will depart with of lasting value.
“You get the title of congressman for the rest of your life,” Wilbur said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on job’s perks
Handbook for members of Congress: tinyurl.com/CongressHandbook
Link to rules on franking: tinyurl.com/FrankingRules