Politics & Government

Pierce County officials mad at King County’s solo vote to replace deceased state lawmaker

King County officials have made their pick to replace a deceased state House member from Federal Way, and their Pierce County counterparts aren’t happy about it.

Members of the Metropolitan King County Council voted 8-0 Monday to appoint Carol Gregory to the position formerly held by Democratic state Rep. Roger Freeman, who died Oct. 29 and was reelected six days later.

But Gregory, the president of the Federal Way School Board, shouldn’t pack her bags for Olympia just yet.

Because Freeman’s seat in the 30th Legislative District straddles the Pierce and King county line, both counties’ governing bodies must approve Freeman’s replacement. Pierce County Council members didn’t take part in Monday’s vote, which occurred at a regular meeting of the King County Council in downtown Seattle.

Dan Roach, chairman of the Pierce County Council, said he and other Pierce County officials don’t think King County acted legally Monday by voting alone. He said he and county staff had been working to schedule a joint meeting with the King County Council to fill the vacancy together.

Joint meetings are how Pierce County officials have handled other recent legislative appointments requiring the approval of other counties, including Thurston and Kitsap, Roach said.

“From where we’re standing, it’s clear that the Constitution says one thing, and King County is doing something else,” Roach said Monday.

Still, Roach said he plans to ask for an opinion from the state attorney general about whether county councils can take separate votes on joint legislative appointments. Until county officials receive that legal advice, the Pierce County Council won’t take its own vote to choose Freeman’s replacement, Roach said.

Attorneys advising the King County Council Monday said that the two governing bodies can take a joint action as required by state law even if they vote in different places on different days. The two councils simply would have to agree on a candidate, said Janine Joly, a senior deputy prosecutor in the King County prosecuting attorney’s office.

“We think there is a basis for arguing ... that you don’t have to meet in the same room for the joint action required by the Constitution,” Joly said.

Pierce County officials don’t think so. In a press release, they cited a 1941 opinion from the state attorney general as evidence.

Roach said Pierce County officials will continue to ask King County to agree to a joint meeting to pick an appointee.

State law says that county councils must decide on a replacement within 60 days of a legislative seat becoming vacant, or else the decision falls to the governor. A report from King County staff said that gives the county councils until Dec. 28 to come to an agreement.

After that, Gov. Jay Inslee would have 30 days to fill the seat.

The Legislature reconvenes for a 105-day session Jan. 12.

Gregory was the top choice of Democratic party officials, who forwarded her name for consideration to the county councils along with two other nominees, Richard Champion and Shari Song.

Gregory is a former teacher and a past president of the Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers union.

Champion is a chemical engineer by training who has been working on roofing jobs and the SeaTac campaign for a $15 minimum wage.

Song is a realtor who recently lost a state Senate race to Federal Way Republican Mark Miloscia.

The 30th Legislative District lies mainly in King County, and includes Federal Way, Milton, Algona, Pacific and portions of Des Moines and Auburn.