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Familiar names seek to replace Ranker in Olympia

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2015 file photo, Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, listens during a hearing in Olympia, Wash. State Sen. Kevin Ranker, an Orcas Island Democrat, resigned Jan. 11 in the wake of workplace harassment allegations made by a former aide, according to an Associated Press report.
FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2015 file photo, Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat from Orcas Island, listens during a hearing in Olympia, Wash. State Sen. Kevin Ranker, an Orcas Island Democrat, resigned Jan. 11 in the wake of workplace harassment allegations made by a former aide, according to an Associated Press report. AP

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.

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.”

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The Bellingham Herald file

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.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.

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