OLYMPIA, Wash. – An Everett lawmaker who argues she was unfairly defeated wants the state Senate to reject her successor while Attorney General Rob McKenna pursues a campaign-finance lawsuit.
Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, was narrowly defeated in August's primary for the state's 38th Legislative District. But the state Public Disclosure Commission later found that Democrat-aligned interest groups and a liberal political consultant conspired to hide who was paying for anti-Berkey campaign materials.
McKenna, a Republican, is now pursuing a civil lawsuit that could lead to the election being invalidated.
While the lawsuit proceeds, Berkey's lawyers have asked Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and the Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders to defer seating Democrat Nick Harper, who finished first in the primary and eventually won the general election.
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"It would be unseemly for the Washington State Senate to seat a member in the 38th Legislative District when the cloud of illegality hovers over this race," said Berkey's letter, which was reported Tuesday by The Daily Herald of Everett.
Harper normally would be sworn in Jan. 10, the first day of the 2011 legislative session. But the state Constitution gives the House and Senate final say on their own members, which means state senators could refuse to accept Harper.
Harper told the Herald that such a step seems unnecessary.
"I think 60 percent of the voters in the 38th district don't think there is a cloud hovering over this race," he said. "Me being seated doesn't deny Jean Berkey her day in court."
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, declined to speculate about how their caucuses would respond to Berkey's request.
"I'd like to first get an analysis by the Senate legal counsel," Brown said. "Everybody wants to know what happened in that race."
The last time the state Legislature exercised its power to reject a member was in 1941, according to research by Secretary of State Sam Reed's office. At that time, state senators refused to seat Lenus Westman of Arlington because he had been a member of the Communist Party.
The PDC's investigation found that consultant Lisa MacLean created two political action committees that would promote conservative candidate Rod Rieger over Berkey.
The PDC also said the Washington State Labor Council, Washington Federation of State Employees and Washington State Association for Justice pledged to cover the cost of two mailers and a round of automated phone calls.
But those pledges weren't disclosed as required by law. The PDC also found that MacLean promised her clients they wouldn't be connected to the effort until after the election.
In previous comments, MacLean has said the case involves "significant legal ambiguities" and "will not - and should not - be tried in the court of public opinion."