Gregoire appointed lawmaker despite staff qualms
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed a state lawmaker to a lucrative job posting despite staff concerns that the politician may not be qualified and had failed to submit an application on time.
The selection of Republican Sen. Cheryl Pflug occurred just after a crucial candidate-filing deadline, leaving the GOP without a chance to draft a favored candidate in a district that could determine the balance of power in the state Senate. Pflug has endorsed a Democrat to replace her.
Gregoire's staff was skeptical about Pflug's application from the beginning, according to records obtained and publicized by Republican campaign organizers. Staffers initially determined that Pflug shouldn't be considered for the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board because she didn't have a law degree, hadn't held local elected positions, didn't have any background in land-use planning and was late to file an application.
"Based on this data Kim (Tanaka) and I recommend that Pflug not go through the interview process," wrote Gregoire aide Carol Albert in one email. The note went to Gregoire's chief of staff, Marty Loesch, and her director of legislative affairs, Jim Justin.
The records do not indicate why that determination changed, but do show that Pflug went through the interview process for the $92,500-per-year job.
Karina Shagren, a spokesman for Gregoire, said the office considered a lengthy list of candidates and that the governor did not want to exclude people from consideration. Staff interviewed some 15 people by phone and then did in-person interviews as well.
Gregoire's office interprets board requirements to allow non-attorneys and people without local experience so long as the second board member representing the region has those credentials. That is the case with Pflug's region the central Puget Sound because of fellow board member Margaret Pageler.
Shagren said the office also believes Pflug has some land-management experience because of her work in the Legislature and noted that she is working toward a law degree.
"Her experience is probably greater than this email first indicates," Shagren said. "This idea that there's some conspiracy going on to harm the GOP is absolutely false."
The records also show that the governor's office was well aware of the key candidate deadline that Pflug faced. In handwritten notes, one staffer circled "21st May" on their notepad to emphasize the timing, and a later summary emphasized that Pflug wanted feedback by that date.
Pflug said the 21st was the last day for her to remove herself from the ballot. But the week before was the candidate-filing deadline, so her appointment on the 21st meant that the Republicans could not get one of their favored candidates on the ballot easily.
Pflug said she called the governor's office during the candidate-filing week, pressing them for an answer. Even though the timing wasn't ideal, Pflug said there was no collusion to disrupt the GOP.
"This wasn't the result of some conspiracy or masterminded plan," Pflug said. "It just happened this way."
A Republican candidate, Brad Toft, had filed to run in the district, so the GOP does have a person in the race. However, he also has his blemishes.
Toft once described himself on his website materials as a graduate of Seattle Pacific University and as having an "executive degree in finance" from the University of Washington, even though he doesn't have any degrees. He also tried to seal court records from a past case in which he had wages garnished as part of a lawsuit.
Political leaders from both parties are closely watching Toft's 5th District race because the outcome could determine whether Republicans can seize control of the Senate or maintain an ideological majority for budget issues. The district covers parts of eastern King County, such as Issaquah and Maple Valley.
AP Writer Mike Baker can be reached on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/HiPpEV
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.