I know a lot of Democrats who are pretty pissed off at King County Councilman Larry Phillips for crossing the aisle and joining Republicans in appointing Jan Drago to fill Dow Constantine’s seat, but I’m not one of them. Yeah, I generally hail from the “Democrats are pussies” camp, routinely berating my own party for failing to play political hardball in the face of the nearly intractable, partisan discipline practiced by their Republican opponents, but well, sometimes reality is reality.
The refusal of the four Republicans on the council to honor the will of Eighth District Democrats by appointing state Sen. Joe McDermott to the seat, was breach of protocol and tradition that I hope comes back to bite them in the ass the next time the council is asked to fill a Republican vacancy, but this was political gambit from which they had little incentive to budge. Had McDermott gained the appointment, his incumbency would have made him such an overwhelming favorite in November that it likely would have dissuaded other serious contenders from waging a challenge. But with an open seat up for grabs, the race could attract several sitting elected officials, thus sowing disruption through the Democratic ranks, and spreading their financial resources ever thinner.
For example, if both McDermott and state Rep. Zack Hudgins run for the council, that will leave both of their otherwise safe legislative seats open in November. But more importantly, it would tie up the surpluses in both of their campaign coffers from being transferred to more competitive districts. That’s just smart politics on the part of the Republican council members, if totally irresponsible when comes to actual governance.
Think I’m giving the goopers too much credit? Then explain to me why they briefly offered Hudgins the council appointment, but only if he agreed, like Drago, to serve only as a caretaker. When Hudgins surprised them by accepting these terms, they asked if Hudgins would run again for his vacated House seat in November, and when he said yes, they withdrew the offer.
Maximum disruption of Democratic legislative races, that’s what the Republicans were shooting for, and perhaps, that’s what they’ll get. So why aren’t I pissed at Phillips for caving to their demands, especially considering that the appointment would have fallen to Gov. Gregoire had the council post remained vacant for another 30 days? Because the cost of waiting another month was simply too high.
Had Phillips and the Democrats waited for Gregoire to appoint McDermott, as she surely would have, it would have meant two legislative seats changing hands in the middle of a crucial short session. First McDermott’s seat would have to be filled, and then Sen. Fred Jarrett’s, whose replacement would have almost surely waited until after Democrats had regained their council majority. Now, with Drago in place, McDermott can continue to prepare for the session, while Randy Gordon’s appointment is little more than a formality.
Combine that with the fact that the biggest knock against Drago is that she’s not McDermott, and it just didn’t make sense to drag out this four-four deadlock any longer… at least if your primary concern is governance. We needed to settle this before the start of the session, even if it meant caving to the Republicans’ irresponsible and petty demands. So in my opinion, Phillips probably did the right thing in breaking ranks.
That said, I hope we can count on him for demanding political payback, when payback is ultimately due.
Apparently, the governor cannot break a deadlock over a nonpartisan seat. So I guess I was wrong. It’s been known to happen.