Even as a new session of the state Legislature opened Monday with Democratic majorities in both houses, party officials at the state and local level are working to fill a sudden vacancy in the 40th Legislative District.
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, an Orcas Island Democrat, resigned late Friday in the wake of workplace harassment allegations made by a former aide, according to an Associated Press report.
Washington’s Constitution describes a complex process for choosing a successor — one involving local Democratic Party officials and the councils of three counties that are part of the left-leaning 40th District, which includes San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
“There’s going to be a lot of people that throw their name into the ring,” said Tara Nelson, communications coordinator for the 40th District Democrats.
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Likely candidates include former state Rep. Kris Lytton and Whatcom County Council member Rud Browne of Bellingham.
Lytton, an Anacortes Democrat, was elected to the House in 2010 and re-elected three times, but she chose not to run again in November 2018.
“I really feel compelled to go back and finish some of my work,” Lytton said Monday in a telephone interview with The Bellingham Herald.
“I’m feeling refreshed after a few months off,” Lytton said. “I’m the only one who can hit the ground running.”
Browne, who placed fourth in the August primary for Lytton’s former state House seat — won in November by Debra Lekanoff — said he too is ready to step into the Legislature.
“After five years in local government, I’ve realized the limitations of local government. That’s why I ran” for the state House, Browne said Monday in a telephone interview with The Bellingham Herald.
“The Legislature is not moving fast enough on the issues that I care about,” especially homelessness, Browne said.
Alex Ramel, a Bellingham environmental activist who placed third in the August 2018 primary, said he wouldn’t be seeking Ranker’s seat.
According to Article II, Section 15, of the state constitution, a vacancy on the Legislature is filled at the local level.
Democratic precinct committee officers in the 40th District will vote on three candidates and submit them for a vote to the county councils in Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties, according to the process outlined by the constitution.
If the party or county councils can’t agree on a replacement within 60 days, the constitution allows Gov. Jay Inslee to make an appointment.
Either way, the new senator must face a special election in November 2019 and then run again in 2020 when Ranker’s Senate term expires.