Inslee’s strange case of bad timing


Politics and government have long been devoid of common sense. It’s a fact of life.

But the ruckus over how to fill Jay Inslee’s congressional seat and who pays for it is the latest example to take the cake.

So, let’s depart from the Harbor for a few minutes and parse this one out. It’s painfully instructive, a bit of a puzzler, and just ironic enough to be amusing. In other words, one of those “just shake your head” moments.

Here we go …

Islee resigned his seat on March 20 to devote himself to running for governor — a decision that seems like logical and straight-shooting reasoning. But, like anything in politics, it’s just not that simple.

The Constitution mandates that Gov. Chris Gregoire “shall” call a special election to fill the seat, but gives no specific time frame. State regulations are a bit more specific. Makes sense so far, right?

Not so fast, dear voter, not so fast. Here’s how it shakes out:

• Because of the timing of Islee’s resignation, the special election to fill the remainder of his term will actually appear on the upcoming regular election’s primary and general election ballots.

• Those ballots are the same ballots that will decide who will fill the next full two-year term for Inslee’s former seat in the 1st Congressional District.

• Because of redistricting after the latest U.S. Census, the 1st District’s boundaries will change as of that new two-year term beginning in January.

• So … the special election for the remainder of Inslee’s current term will cover the old boundaries of the district, and the new, full two-year term will be within the new district boundaries. (Once again, they’ll both be decided in the same election.)

Now would be a good time to take a breath, because we’ve only just begun.

Ready?

OK, here we go:

• It is possible for one candidate to run in both the special election and the regular election, and, to make it easier (how refreshing) that candidate doesn’t even have to live in an area that is covered by both the old and new district boundaries. It turns out, according to longtime journalist turned-Secretary of State spokesman Dave Ammons, state law doesn’t require that a representative to Congress actually live in the district they represent.

• However, the voters for the two elections will be different because of the different district boundaries. In other words, a candidate that is successful in the old boundaries may not be in the new district.

• And, the Federal Election Commission may require a candidate who runs in both elections to run two separate campaigns with separate finances, which could also be a disincentive to running a dual campaign.

• What’s tough for the candidate is also tough for the voters: In “crossover” areas — those covered by both the old and new boundaries of the district — Inslee’s former seat would be on the ballot twice. For those within the old boundaries who have been moved to another district, only the special election would appear, accompanied by the ballot choices for their new congressperson. That’s not at all confusing, is it?

Now that we’ve gotten the logistics out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks — the cost. Secretary of State Sam Reed asked the Legislature for $770,000 to cover the cost of Inslee’s special election. He also asked for an additional $225,000 to educate voters on what we just covered — and at least some education sounds pretty logical to me since I wrote it and I still have trouble following it.

The Legislature didn’t grant the funds — due to a mix of special session budget sprinting and, shockingly, a little bit of politics. But somebody has to pay for it, because the election has to be held.

But, here’s the most important part: What does your nearly $800,000 special election pay for? Anywhere from five to 16 days of the House of Representatives actually being in session.

That’s it. No, I’m not kidding.

By the time the special election is certified — a month after the Nov. 6 election day — there are approximately five session days left on the House’s 2012 calendar. Ammons adds that, if there is a clear winner before the election is certified and Reed writes a letter to that effect to the U.S. House, the body could choose to seat Inslee’s replacement sooner, but even that only potentially adds another 10 or so session days to the total.

Then, once the calendar turns over to January, whoever won the separate election for the full two-year term will take office — whether it’s the same person or not.

Insanity, isn’t it?

Does the convoluted nature of replacing Inslee surprise any of us? Nope. This is government after all. Common sense would tell us to just wait and let the next election fill the seat starting in January. But, we can’t do that.

Now, enter the political pea-shooting …

The state Republican Party is making a lot of hay out of “Inslee’s $1 million mistake” in resigning — a cost they’ve obviously arrived at by adding Reed’s requests together. State Democrats accuse Reed — a supporter of Inslee’s chief competition, Attorney General Rob McKenna — of playing politics and overestimating the cost of the special election to make Inslee look bad.

Let’s be clear on one thing — I don’t think either of them are asking the most important questions, and if they did, it just might help me decide who to vote for in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Those are: Why are we holding this seemingly ridiculous special election? And, can we do something about this predicament in the future? Granted, it doesn’t happen but once in a blue moon, but … really.

The reason the law of the land requires that we hold a special election to replace Inslee is so that no constituents go unrepresented for any longer than is necessary. I get that — and I even agree with it in principal, or I wouldn’t be American. It’s all about We the People, right?

But, in this case, they’ve been unrepresented since March, and won’t be again until likely December. To boot, the regular election would have the interests of all of them back under the watchful eye of a congressperson by January.

As for whether Inslee made the right decision, I don’t know. I can see it from both sides. But, it might have helped if he did a little homework before deciding the timing of his decision.

I just can’t imagine he did this to us on purpose.

Dan Jackson, The Daily World’s city editor, is very glad he’s not a 1st Congressional District voter. He can be reached at 537-3929, or by email at djackson@thedailyworld.com