In a meeting of the 15 county commissioners in Eastern Washington last Thursday, John Smith was chosen from three nominees to fill the open Washington State Senate seat created by the retirement of long-time legislator Bob Morton.
Smith received a near-unanimous vote of the commissioners at the Jan. 3 meeting. The three nominees that included Smith, Doug Simpson and Josh Kerns were determined from an initial list of eight nominees at meeting of the Seventh District Republican Precinct Committee Officers on Dec. 15.
Nominee Doug Simpson backed out of the process prior to the commissioner meeting. However, since there is no policy on how to remove a name from the list of nominees in this particular appointment process, his name was still officially considered although he received no votes.
The commissioners did consider concerns brought forward by local resident Doug Clifford as to the legitimacy of the appointment process due to the fact there were not actually three nominees.
Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke said that several counties sought advice from their legal counsel that affirmed that RCW 42.12.010 allowed them to move forward with the process. However, if the final appointee failed to take the Oath of Office, a vacancy would again occur.
Kerns and Smith both addressed the county commissioners on their background and why they were seeking appointment to the state senate.
Kerns, a legislative assistant to state Representative John Ahern and graphic designer, answered a number of questions from the commissioners that focused on his knowledge of the rural nature of the Seventh district that encompasses Stevens, Ferry, Pend Orielle counties as well as part of Okanogan county and northern Spokane county.
Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart asked Kerns what he felt the “character” of the Seventh Legislative district is.
“The character has become substantially different over time, especially as the Seventh now has about 40 percent of its makeup from an urban area,” said Kerns. “There are many different issues but the one that pertains to all parts of the Seventh District is that unemployment is far too high.”
Ferry County Commissioner Mike Blankenship commented on Kern’s response.’
“There is one thing you said that scares the daylights out of me and that is saying that 40 percent of the district is in urban Spokane,” said Blankenship. “If that is how you view the district I don’t see how you will be focused on bringing jobs to places like Republic if you believe so many of your constituents are in Spokane.”
Kerns was also asked questions in regards to government ownership of land, the Endangered Species Act, and the current power-sharing strategy in the Senate.
“With the unique caucus that has been formed in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans, how much give and take do you think is necessary to keep things together?,” asked Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke.
“I think we have to focus on passing a working budget, passing pro-job legislation and funding education,” said Kerns. “We also have to take a real view of revenue…sometimes state agencies act as if they can make more money fining people than helping them meet regulations so we can grow the economy.”
John Smith was also grilled by the commissioners with similar questions.
Spokan County Commissioner Al French wanted to know how Smith would reach out to his constituents in urban areas.
“There is an intimate connection between Spokane and the rest of the Seventh District in that Spokane is Eastern Washington’s largest trading partner,” said Smith. “And as a trading partner, we have similar concerns about roads, education and core business issues. We need to focus on those things that link us.”
A commissioner from Pend Oreille County wanted to know what Smith would do about fraud and abuse of the unemployment benefits program.
“One of the reasons we see high unemployment and an abuse of the benefits system is due to a weak economy and lack of jobs,” said Smith. “Our state has taken the principal economy out of the ground and put it in a pot and think they can replace it with service jobs. We need to get back to our basic industries: mining, agriculture and forestry. Those areas are what create jobs and infuse other systems with life.”
At the end of the session, Smith won 13 of the 15 commissioner votes. Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel abstained from the vote due to a “conflict of interest.” Stevens County Commissioner Steve Parker abstained from voting due to concerns about the lack of three nominees to vote on. The remaining commissioners all voted to appoint Smith to the seat.
In order to retain the position, Smith will have to run in a special election this fall, and again in 2014 when Senator Morton’s term would have officially concluded. Smith has already started his campaign effort online at: https://www.facebook.com/electjohnssmith.
Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel announced over the weekend that he will also be running in the special election this fall for the Senate seat. Dansel was originally in the list of nominees for PCO consideration, but was deemed ineligible due to 1987 Attorney General’s opinion that precluded currently elected commissioners from consideration. District office at 509-685-6800.
By Jamie Henneman, Special to The Independent
In This Photo: Josh Kerns, John Smith (center) and Doug Simpson were chosen as the three nominees forwarded to the county commissioners for appointment to the Senate. Smith was appointed on Jan. 3 by a near unanimous decision.