The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners and the Pierce County Council on Thursday picked Nathan Schlicher, an emergency room doctor from Gig Harbor, to replace Derek Kilmer in the state Senate.
Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, was elected to Congress in November to replace longtime 6th District Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, who retired at the end of the last legislative session.
Local Democrats selected Schlicher last month as their top choice to serve a year in the state Senate, filling Kilmer’s seat in the 26th Legislative District. The two runners-up were Todd Iverson, a longshoreman who sits on the Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District’s Board of Directors, Gerry Baldwin of Gig Harbor, an aviation analyst and former pilot.
Schlicher and Iverson were at Thursday’s joint meeting at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, and both answered a fusillade of questions. Topics touched on health care, education, transportation, economic development and the state budget. Baldwin was unable to attend.
By law, commissioners and board members had to pick Schlicher or one to two runners-up, and the choice had to be a Democrat, since they would fill Kilmer’s seat. The three candidates were nominated in rank order from precinct committee officers.
Schlicher, who described himself as a nonpartisan issues advocate, said he doesn’t believe state government is doing enough to meet the needs of people, especially with regard to health care.
“These are the people we see every day that we fail,” he said of his time as an emergency room physician at St. Joseph Medical Center.
He indicated financial realities and bureaucratic red tap often are obstacles to providing the required care.
“I do believe that we can do better,” he said.
Schlicher told the joint assembly that he is on sabbatical from his job during the 105-day legislative session.
“I’ve got the time, the composure and the background to do it,” he said.
On other issues, Schlicher made the following comments to the joint committee:
• Education: “The challenges we’re facing in education are enormous,” he said, referencing recent talk by some lawmakers of closing the Guaranteed Education Tuition program, the state’s prepaid tuition option.
With the Legislature trying to comply with a state Supreme Court mandate to amply fund basic eduction, Schlicher said it’s important to make sure everybody has access to K-12 schools and that local control be maintained.
• Transportation: Schlicher was critical of transportation packages that don’t plan for maintenance costs down the road, claiming that’s like building a 20-year roof with no thought of how to keep it up or repair it after those 20 years.
He also was critical of the way transportation projects are sometimes funded, citing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which he said cost $900 million to build but will end up costing $2.6 billion due to the principal and interest paid by the time the construction debt is paid off in 17 years.
• Economic development: Making sure those who make the transition from military service can reintegrate into the civilian workforce is important, Schlicher said, and he referenced programs to help with tuition requirements for higher education and apprenticeship options.
• State budget: With the Legislature facing a $2 billion difference between revenue and planned spending, Schlicher said some tough decisions will have to be made.
“My hope is that we can find a balanced approach,” he said.
Schlicher also said he was confident in his ability to work with Republicans.
“I hope that we will be able to get real work done,” he said.
He is already poised to hit the ground running, as the Senate has provided him with an office, staffing, furniture and a state email address. Schlicher spent the first three days of the legislative session in Olympia, working as a district “advocate.”
Schlicher’s appointment could be especially meaningful, given that a coalition of Republicans and two breakaway Democrats have taken control of the Senate by a margin of 25-23, not including the seat Schlicher takes over.
Schlicher will serve during the current legislative session, but he will have to run in November to retain the seat in 2014. State Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, already has announced her intention to run this fall.
Commissioners and council members complimented both men, although Iverson seemed to be hurt by his acknowledgement that he wasn’t sure if he would run for the seat this fall if was selected for this session.
Pierce County Council member Dan Roach said he didn’t want a “placeholder.”
Schlicher’s articulate presentation, as well as his past experience with lobbying lawmakers against cuts to emergency care, seemed to sit well with the panel.
“I think Nathaniel Schlicher will ably represent the district,” Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown said.
The combined panel of Kitsap County commissioners and Pierce County council members voted 8-1 to approve Schlicher. All three Kitsap commissioners voted for Schlicher; the lone vote against was cast by Stan Flemming, who represents Gig Harbor, Key Peninsula and Fox Island, as well as University Place. Pierce County Council member Jim McCune abstained.
To make each vote equal, all Kitsap County commissioners’ votes were full votes, and each Pierce County Council member’s vote was counted as three-sevenths of a tally.Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.