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County officlals may be excluded from Sen. Ranker’s seat

January 20, 2019

The state Democratic Party has determined that two candidates to replace Sen. Kevin Ranker are ineligible because they serve on county boards that will vote on the appointment.

Anna Berch-Norton, acting chair of the 40th District Democrats Executive Board, said the state party reached its conclusion after being provided a legal opinion by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“This is their official stance,” she said. “I don’t think that will change.”

Ranker resigned Jan. 11 amid a sexual harassment investigation, according to the Associated Press.

The state party’s determination means Whatcom County Councilman Rud Browne and San Juan County Councilman Jamie Stephens cannot be appointed to fill Ranker’s seat, Berch-Norton said.

“They need to resign their seats if they want to seek the appointment,” she said.

The 40th Legislative District, which encompasses northwest Skagit County — including Anacortes — southwest Whatcom County and all of San Juan County, has been represented by Ranker in the Senate since 2009.

Despite what the state Democratic Party has said, Stephens and Browne both said they will continue to seek the position.

Stephens said the precedent for Ferguson’s legal opinion is based on an outdated 1984 case.

“It’s just an opinion until someone challenges it,” he said.

He said abiding by the opinion would mean that some of the best-prepared people would be forbidden from seeking vacant legislative seats, something he called exclusionary.

Both Stephens and Browne said they have been told that charter counties, such as San Juan and Whatcom, are not subject to Ferguson’s opinion.

“I have no intention of withdrawing,” Browne said.

He said there is nothing that could prevent him from running in an election for a seat in the Legislature. Therefore, he said it makes no sense to restrict him from being appointed to fill a seat.

Members of county governing boards are often the most prepared to serve in the state Legislature, Browne said. Excluding a class of person based on their position is anti-democratic, he said.

“You want the people who are most informed,” he said. “We’re the ones that are on the front lines of the issues.”

He said he hopes the 64 Democratic Party precinct committee officers who will select the three finalists for Ranker’s position feel Ferguson’s opinion is as absurd as he does.

After the precinct committee officers select three the finalists for the seat Feb. 2 in Bellingham, the governing boards from the three counties within the district will select Ranker’s replacement.

Browne said he plans to recuse himself when the county boards vote on the finalists.

Besides Browne and Stephens, three others have expressed interest in the Senate seat: former state Rep. Kristine Lytton, Anacortes City Councilwoman Liz Lovelett and Learner Limbach, general manager and co-founder of the Orcas Food Co-op.

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