In a surprising move, the Snohomish County Council voted along party lines Wednesday to appoint former Everett city councilman David Simpson to the 38th District seat in the state House of Representatives left empty by Jean Berkey’s move to the Senate.
Democrats had earlier said that Mike Sells, the secretary-treasurer for Snohomish County Labor Council, was their top choice of the three Democrats nominated for the vacant seat.
On a 3-2 vote, Republican councilmen John Koster, Gary Nelson and Jeff Sax voted to appoint Simpson to the position. Democrats Dave Gossett and Kirke Sievers voted against the selection.
There was little discussion before the vote, but one councilman said later the move smacked of partisan politics.
Simpson, who told the council he was the best fit for the job because he was the only candidate with experience in public office, began preparing for a trip to Olympia to be sworn in as a lawmaker.
"Today is a good day for the citizens of the 38th Legislative District," Simpson said. "I’m going to Olympia to work hard for my district."
Sells, however, was the front-runner for the appointment to represent the 38th District, which includes Everett, part of Marysville and the Tulalip Reservation. He picked up the most ballots during the recent vote of Democratic precinct committee officers for the position, leading Simpson and District 38 state committeeman Kelly Wright, the third candidate in the race.
"That’s politics," Sells said.
He said the selection wasn’t a total surprise because he has been on the forefront of controversial issues before the County Council, such as the jail sales tax and the Brightwater sewage treatment plant.
"I think that rankles some of them a little bit," Sells said.
The council made the appointment after separately interviewing the candidates in an examination that took less than an hour.
"I think all of them were very well qualified," Nelson said. "They each had good credentials, good reasons as to why they wanted to hold the House seat."
But Gossett said the vote was a political play by the council Republicans, who may have been thinking of the election later this year when they chose Simpson. Voters will choose a representative for the 38th District House seat in November.
"I just think there was a partisan decision, that the Republicans thought that David Simpson would be an easier candidate to beat," Gossett said. "I think David is going to surprise them.
"I think very highly of Dave," Gossett added. "I just happen to think Mike was the better candidate."
Nelson said he voted for Simpson because of his knowledge of local government and his work on Everett’s planning commission.
"How can one say that Simpson becomes the weaker candidate when he’s already been elected in the city of Everett?" Nelson asked.
The House seat became vacant after the council picked Berkey as the senator for the 38th District on Monday. The position opened after Aaron Reardon resigned to take over as Snohomish County executive, a job he won in the November election.
A Boeing Co. engineer, Simpson, 47, served on the Everett City Council from 1998 to 2001. He lost his re-election bid to Mark Olson and lost again in November to incumbent Councilman Doug Campbell in a bid to return to the council.
The County Council has split in the past from a party’s preference on appointments.
In 1992, the council could not break a 2-2 tie to appoint Democratic party favorite Karen Miller to the seat left vacant by Brian Corcoran’s retirement. The stalemate eventually led to Miller’s appointment by Gov. Booth Gardner.
And Nelson recalled that he was the party’s top pick to replace Bill Brubaker when the councilman resigned in 1994. But the council chose the third Republican on the list, Al Schweppe. Nelson ran for the position that November and won.
Herald Writer David Olson contributed to this report. Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.