In this op-ed piece, state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, the Senate Republican Floor Leader, says a big stink seems to be coming from the 5th Legislative District, and offers support for state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, in his call for an investigation. It seems that the Democratic governor’s appointment of a sitting Republican senator to a lucrative position in the midst of campaign season is raising hackles on both sides of the aisle.
Months after it happened, documents were finally released from the Governor’s office that detail Gregoire’s backroom deal to help Mark Mullet in his bid to capture the 5th LD (Legislative District) State Senate seat for the Democrats. The one person who sensed the importance of these documents was Democrat Senator Rodney Tom. He decried how it looked to citizens and pledged an investigation of the deal.
The constant talk in Olympia is that Gregoire offered more than a million dollars in salary and pension benefits to former Senator Cheryl Pflug if she would take an appointment to the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB). In exchange, Pflug had to endorse Mullet — the Democrat in the race. Instead of denouncing the deal, Mullet gladly accepted all its benefits.
Democrat leaders are desperate to hold control of the state Senate. It already looks like Republicans have a good shot to pick up several current Democrat Senate seats elsewhere in the state. That’s all they would need for a majority.
And Democrats were at a severe disadvantage in the 5th legislative district. Their candidate, Mullet, had already been caught deceiving voters. He pledged to party bosses that he would support their plans for a state income tax, increased sales tax and an overthrow of the two thirds taxpayer protection to raise taxes. These are positions which are completely at odds with the voters of the district.
When written evidence of this surfaced, Mullet denied what he told Democrat insiders. His promises to raise taxes exposed, he now needed something else to have any chance: an open seat and the endorsement of then Senator Pflug.
Look, politics happen. People look for advantage. But it is unethical to use taxpayer dollars to get political advantage. And that is what happened here.
It turns out that Pflug was not even qualified for the GMHB position. Governor staffers (who merely tried to follow the law) initially determined that Pflug shouldn’t be considered 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 her application.
Records indicate that Sen. Ed Murray—current head of the Democrat Senate Campaign Committee—stepped in to advocate for her. Records also show that the Governor’s office was well aware of the last date for a Senator to withdraw. A key staffer wrote “21st May” in the interview notes.
If a deal to give Senate Democrats an advantage wasn’t being discussed, why wasn’t “18th May” in the notes? (May 18th was the last day for candidate filing.) If Pflug made her announcement by the 18th, anyone could have gotten into the race. A May 21st withdrawal precluded that.
By waiting until the 21st, the Governor got the maximum possible advantage for Mullet. Gregoire also secured the much-touted endorsement of Pflug; What has been featured so prominently as a bipartisan gesture turns out to be nothing but payback for a backroom deal.
After the Governor and her political staff overruled the previous determination that Pflug was not qualified, one of her professional staff wrote of the appointment, “We’re doomed. We’re all doomed.”
On May 10, Pflug told Senator Tom that he was going to “enjoy working with Mark Mullet.” This statement is inexplicable since as far as Tom knew, Pflug was still running against Mullet. She even showed up at a campaign event on May 17th—the day before the last day she could withdraw from the seat—and calmed anxious questions about why she hadn’t raised a single dollar for her campaign. She reassured the gathered crowd that she would run “an extremely strong campaign.”
When Pflug’s appointment was announced Monday, May 21, a senior Gregoire staffer admitted privately that they had heard that Pflug was bragging for the last week and half that she had the GMHB appointment. It was emphatically stated, however, that the Governor hadn’t formally called her up to offer her the position until that day.
OF COURSE the Governor hadn’t formally called her until May 21. However, SOMEONE in the Governor’s office apparently gave Pflug enough confidence that she was getting the appointment that she was bragging about it to Democrat Senators
There’s an old saying: “When there are footprints in the snow and there’s mail in the mailbox, you don’t need to have seen the mailman to know he was there.”
Mullet got his endorsement and open Senate seat. Pflug got her check. The Governor helped Sen. Ed Murray and the Democrats put themselves in the best position to try and hold control of the Senate.
And the Washington taxpayers and the voters of the 5th LD got left holding the bag on this million dollar boondoggle.
Thank you Senator Tom for drawing attention to this matter. At least someone smells the stench arising from this backroom deal.