OLYMPIA, Oct. 23.–A batch of documents released Monday by state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, adds fuel to suspicions of nasty business in the 5th Legislative District this year, a story reported by Washington State Wire last week. The records, generated as a result of a public records act request to the governor’s office, don’t prove a scheme to influence an election via the gubernatorial-appointment process. But Ericksen says they’re good enough for government work. His letter to reporters says they “confirm corruption.”
The records show at the very least that the office of Gov. Christine Gregoire stretched the rules more than a tad for former state Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley when she applied for a position on the state Growth Management Hearings Board. Her application was late and staffers had serious misgivings about her qualifications. At least two urged that it be spiked. But it went forward nevertheless. Among Pflug’s professional references was state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.
And finally, when the appointment was announced, one staffer reacted: “We’re doomed.”
Some of the more suspicious souls at the statehouse have been raising questions about the affair ever since the appointment was announced May 21. By naming Pflug to the high-paying position, the Democratic governor took an incumbent Republican out of the running for re-election and boosted the chances of Democrat Mark Mullet, an Issaquah city councilman who filed for the position. The internal emails, notes and memorandums “clearly show that political considerations to give the 5th District seat to Mark Mullet overrode Cheryl Pflug’s lack of qualifications to serve on the Growth Management Hearings Board,” Ericksen says. Pflug and the governor’s office say everything is on the up-and-up.
Matter of Timing
It’s a five-month-old story, but just in case you’re tuning in late, it is one that has taken on a new importance in recent weeks. As other Senate contests drop from the radar screen, the 5thDistrict Senate race has emerged as one of the most competitive of this year’s races, in a year when Republicans are within striking distance of the majority in the upper chamber.
What raised eyebrows last May was the timing. Pflug was named to the position one day after filing week had ended, when it was too late for Republicans to find a new candidate, but just in time to meet a 5 p.m. deadline for Pflug to strike her name from the ballot. That left one Republican in the running – mortgage broker Brad Toft. Allegations of legal misconduct and other sundry charges have appeared on a regular basis since midsummer. Republican Pflug endorsed Democrat Mullet shortly after taking the $92,500-a-year job – worth approximately $1 million over the 6-year term, when benefits are considered. And while the whole episode might be chalked up to an unusual series of circumstances, there are many, including Ericksen, who say it’s all a little hard to believe.
What the internal emails from the governor’s show is that Pflug’s application came after the deadline. Staffers quickly noted that she had neither experience as a local governmental elected official nor a Bar license – two requirements listed by the statute establishing qualifications for hearings examiners. Two staffers recommended April 30 that Pflug not be interviewed.
The governor’s office interviewed Pflug anyway. And a handwritten May 10 note from adviser Keith Phillips underscores the importance of the May 21 deadline. It says “Timing –> 21st May.” A follow-up note from Phillips May 11 says, “The senator asks for feedback before May 21, when she has to decide whether to include her name on the ballot.”
The governor’s office later decided that Pflug qualified for the position, under the strict wording of the law establishing membership requirements for the board.
When the press release announcing the appointment was issued, staffer Alice Vermillion reacted with an email: “We’re doomed. We’re all doomed.”
Will Introduce Bill
Ericksen says he plans to introduce a bill next session that would bar the governor from appointing lawmakers to paid positions on boards and commissions during election season. He says the legislation will “prevent this type of corruption from ever happening again. The people of Washington demand and deserve clean government.”
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