Todd Iverson summed up the political stakes.
“It’s a swing district in a swing Senate,” the longshoreman said, “and this vote will really matter.”
The Pierce and Kitsap County boards interviewed Gig Harbor Democrats Iverson and Nathaniel Schlicher on Thursday for a vacancy in the Legislature.
And with control of the Senate resting on a scalpel’s edge, they sent emergency room doctor Schlicher to Olympia.
Schlicher had been the top choice of local Democrats, with Iverson a close runner-up and Gerry Baldwin third. Because they were replacing a Democrat — Derek Kilmer, who was elected to Congress — the Pierce County Council and Kitsap County Board of Commissioners were required to appoint one of the three. Baldwin, a former airline pilot, bowed out.
Kitsap commissioners are Democrats, and the Pierce council is under GOP control. However, the two boards didn’t clash, giving Schlicher a lopsided vote of support with only Republican councilmen Stan Flemming opposed and Jim McCune abstaining.
Supporters cited his articulate presentation and impressive credentials. Commissioner Josh Brown joked that if anyone could handle the madness of the legislative schedule, it would be an ER doctor.
“I think he’s going to have a very short learning curve,” said Connie Ladenburg, a Tacoma Democrat and ex-legislator.
Schlicher will spend the next year representing the 26th District, which runs from Bremerton to the west side of the Tacoma Narrows bridges. He can stay for another year if he wins a special election this November, with Port Orchard Republican Rep. Jan Angel expected to be his main rival. Angel said Thursday it didn’t matter to her who became her opponent.
Democrats want a candidate who can beat Angel, and Iverson acknowledged he wasn’t sure if he would run if he won.
That caught the attention of council members, even a Republican, Dan Roach of Bonney Lake, who said he didn’t want a “placeholder.”
But what sealed the decision for Roach, and maybe others, was that Schlicher was the choice of the nominating group made up of Democratic precinct-committee officers.
“You need to respect the fact that it’s a Democratic seat and the Democratic PCOs are bringing it forward,” Roach said.
McCune, of Graham, said he thought both candidates would do well. Flemming, of University Place, didn’t give a reason for voting against Schlicher and didn’t return a phone call afterward. A fellow physician, he noted he has worked at St. Joseph Medical Center, where Schlicher practices.
Schlicher is well-placed to hit the ground running, and not just because of his resume that also includes a law degree — obtained at age 19. As the frontrunner, the Senate had already provided him with an office, staffing, furniture and an email address. He spent the first three days of the legislative session in Olympia.
He has lobbied lawmakers in the past against cuts to emergency care, and health care is still his priority — as lawmakers work to implement President Barack Obama’s health care law and prepare for debates on gun violence that are sure to touch on mental illness.
Schlicher comfortably expounded Thursday on what he sees as the failings of the mental-health system, along with those of state transportation spending. He was more tentative on matters of education, a major focus as the Legislature tries to fulfill a court mandate to amply fund schools.
“I’m smart enough to know,” he told the boards, “that I know a lot about a little and I don’t know everything about anything.”