Political vacancies illustrate the limits of democracy. An elected official resigns, and elected elites (perhaps they don’t consider themselves elites) are charged with tapping his or her successor. It’s approached as a stopgap, although the appointee receives the benefit of incumbency. At times the process magnifies a sense of estrangement, if not cynicism, that politics is an inside game.
This year, a member of the Everett City Council, a commissioner for the Port of Everett, a county executive, a state senator for the 38th legislative district and, now, the president of the Everett School Board have all resigned. The circumstances vary, and are largely irrelevant. What matters is ensuring that the succession process is transparent and in the public interest.
School Board President Jeff Russell’s resignation Monday brings the challenge into focus. The replacement schedule is finely detailed. The School Board will accept applicants to fill the Russell vacancy through Dec. 20, and will then select up to five finalists Jan. 6. On Jan. 9, the board will conduct open-session interviews and then recess to executive session to review the candidates before returning and making its pick. The downside is that the replacement won’t face voters until the next scheduled district election in 2015, when Russell’s term expires.
The long wait should sound familiar. Citizens won’t have an opportunity to vote on John Lovick, appointed to replace Aaron Reardon as county executive, until the fall of 2014 (If Reardon had resigned earlier in May, an election would have taken place in November.) If Gov. Jay Inslee were to resign two years into his term, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen would succeed and finish out the governor’s four years, sidestepping a special election.
The most democratic appointment process (which doesn’t necessarily make it the most fair, mind you) is for the Legislature. Last week, 25 of 28 Democratic precinct committee officers voted and ranked their top picks for state Senate, with the county council approving now-Sen. John McCoy, 5-0. It’s hyper-democratic (PCOs often are activists) but inscrutable (we’d announce our personal choice to succeed McCoy in the House, but it would probably hinder her/his chances, just because.)
Reforms? Yes, school board terms should be four years, not six. After that, the appointment process requires an open mindedness that systemic changes can’t influence. The school board, the port, the Everett City Council, all would benefit from a diversity of viewpoints. It’s human nature, however, to seek out agreeable, like-us types.
Surprise us, ye electeds. Tap people who aren’t preordained by virtue of connections and pedigree. Good decision-making happens when there’s a genuine diversity of views.