The American political system, freighted by special-interest money, is still bracingly democratic. Just ask local, post-primary-surviving Republican and Democratic candidates navigating the rubber-chicken circuit and elbowing endorsements at legislative-district meetings. Presidential impeachment and Israel-Gaza aren’t relevant to a future state legislator’s work. No matter. They’ll get quizzed on all topics obscure, immaterial or embarrassing (if not there, then knocking on doors, hustling votes.) Politics can be a cruel beast.
There are a few ways the process gets short-circuited: The corrosive effect of fundraising (see above) and the implicit obligation it buys; low-voter turnout, which benefits incumbents; and office vacancies that trigger appointments. The appointment process and attendant musical chairs can harmonize a coup d’etat with the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup”: How exactly did he become an “elected” official?
Over the past 15 months, Snohomish County showcased the trend, with appointments to replace the county executive, sheriff, two legislators (and the seats of the legislators who then moved up to the state Senate) two Everett School Board members, two Everett City Council members and an Edmonds city council member. One takeaway: Only appoint when it’s absolutely necessary. That was the case when Snohomish County Executive John Lovick replaced Reardon and had to resign as sheriff. The sheriff’s spot couldn’t be left vacant, and Ty Trenary is proving an inspired appointee.
But part-time legislators? There are compelling reasons for filling vacancies close to the legislative session, ensuring district representation. That was the case with the 21st and 38th legislative districts. That’s not the case in the 44th, where Rep. Mike Hope resigned July 24 after it was revealed he was registered to vote in both Ohio and Washington.
If the Snohomish County Council appoints Hope’s successor now, he or she would draw a state salary, but not actually work until Jan. 2015 — presupposing he or she even is elected. But there’s a political reality, as The Herald reports: Republicans would be foolish not to forward a name, in this case, current Republican candidate Mark Harmsworth, who serves on the Mill Creek city council. An appointee has a natural advantage in the fall (“retain” me) and takes a state salary while campaigning (!) fulltime. If the Democratic county council punts, it looks like partisan clowning. Catch-22?
If appointed now, Harmsworth could refuse an interim salary or contribute it to the United Way’s Oso Recovery Fund. That would earn goodwill, not to mention votes.