Snohomish County Council can’t decide on a state House appointment

EVERETT — The Democrat-controlled Snohomish County Council balked Monday at appointing a Republican to an open state House seat.

Instead of choosing a replacement, the council voted 5-0 to let Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee fill the vacancy in the 44th Legislative District created by the July resignation of Republican Rep. Mike Hope.

Council members acted swiftly and without explanation after spending 25 minutes behind closed doors discussing three nominees submitted by the Republican Party. They did not vote on the candidates in open session.

“We’ve had a rousing discussion,” said Councilman Brian Sullivan, before making a motion to punt the decision to the governor.

State election officials said it’s the first time in recent history a governor will fill a legislative seat at the request of a County Council.

The council action didn’t sit well with the political director of the House Republican Caucus.

“Any of the three nominees would have done an admirable job during an appointment. But the Democrat council members refused to do their statutory duty because they are playing politics,” Kevin Carns wrote in an email.

Republican precinct officers nominated Mill Creek City Councilman Mark Harmsworth, Lake Stevens City Councilman Sam Low and retired Navy captain Doug Roulstone for the open seat.

On Monday, the County Council of four Democrats and one Republican interviewed each candidate in open session, then went into executive session.

Harmsworth was the top choice of the precinct officers, and Low and Roulstone both urged the council to appoint him.

But Harmsworth is also a candidate for the seat and bested Democrat Mike Wilson in the August primary, which might have been a factor in the County Council’s reticence Monday.

Council Chairman Dave Somers, a Democrat, declined to say why the council could not muster majority support for any of the candidates.

“There was clearly no consensus,” he said, adding that the council was in an “awkward position” with the seat becoming available in the midst of an election.

Republican Councilman Ken Klein said he fought for Harmsworth.

“I couldn’t get three votes,” he said. “I was surprised only because Mark was the most ready and he’d been working on these issues. As to the motivation for why, I can’t speak to that.”

Harmsworth, who seemed disappointed by the council’s decision, responded diplomatically to the experience.

“Politics is politics. I don’t want to assume what they were deliberating behind closed doors,” he said. “I was ready to serve. We’ll see what the governor does. The real thing is the election in the fall, and we’ll see what happens then.”

Inslee will have 30 days to make an appointment after he receives the County Council’s request.

The governor must choose from the nominees submitted to the council. Whoever is appointed will represent the district until results of the Nov. 4 election are certified, at which point the winner will be sworn into office for a full House term.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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