Politics & Government

Troy Kelley’s former House co-workers contemplate his removal

Troy Kelley has few or no defenders left in the state House, where he worked for six years.

Just ask a lawmaker who once allied with Kelley as part of a group of centrist Democrats. Now Rep. Chris Hurst wants the indicted state auditor removed from office.

“If you put this out for a vote on the floor of the House tomorrow, I have a hard time imagining that a single member of the House wouldn’t vote for removal,” said Hurst, of Enumclaw. “I think it would probably be unanimous.”

There’s no sign of a move toward Kelley’s removal in the House, which has the constitutional power to draw up charges — impeachment — for a trial in the Senate. Kelley’s decision to take an unpaid leave of absence might convince lawmakers to leave the matter to federal prosecutors.

But behind the scenes, leaders of House Democrats are discussing alternatives to impeachment, said Rep. Sam Hunt, who has been part of those talks. “We’re talking about various avenues, various approaches to take,” said Hunt, D-Olympia.

Hunt said he can’t yet say publicly what Democrats are considering.

“I think there are two options — there’s resignation or there’s impeachment,” Hunt said, “and I worry with a (federal) trial, this could go on for a year or so.”

Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, have proposed changing state law to declare that elected officials vacate their job when they take leaves of absence without medical or military reasons. But Hunt said he doesn’t think such a law could be applied retroactively.

A grand jury indicted Kelley on April 15 on charges of keeping stolen money, tax evasion and false statements, including statements made to Internal Revenue Service agents after becoming auditor in 2013.

But he’s not accused of misusing his office, which raises questions about whether the charges against him rise to the level of impeachable offenses. The state constitution provides for impeachment for “high crimes or misdemeanors,” which might require a conviction, and “malfeasance in office.”

MacEwen said using stolen money to win public office and “abandonment” of his office to an unelected person should both be considered impeachable offenses.

Kelley spent $500,000 of his own money to defeat two other Democrats and a Republican in the 2012 election. On Monday, he began an indefinite leave of absence, delegating his duties to longtime auditor employee Jan Jutte. Those actions mean impeachment should be “on the table,” MacEwen said.

The Legislature has never removed an elected official, although the House impeached Insurance Commissioner John Schively in 1909 over accusations that he extorted money from insurance companies. The Senate found Schively not guilty of the charges.

A vacancy would trigger an appointment by Gov. Jay Inslee. The appointee would serve until November 2016 – unless Kelley resigns before May 11, in time for a special election this year.