In a rare action the came during a joint session between the Pierce County Council and the Kitsap County Commissioners, Nathan Schlicher, an emergency room physician from Gig Harbor, was appointed last Thursday to replace Derek Kilmer to represent the 26th Legislative District in the state Senate.
Kilmer was elected to Congress in November, a move the former state legislator took when Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, announced he would retire from the U.S. House of Representatives following 36 years of service.
The election results set in motion a careful political process to name a successor for the current 105-day state legislative session, and by law, the person had to be a Democrat, since Kilmer identifies with the party.
Schlicher was the top choice of three candidates pushed forward by the 26th District Democrats in a meeting of the precinct committee officers. The other two, Todd Iverson and Gerry Baldwin, also Gig Harbor residents, would have been adequate choices, too. But it was clear during the public question-and-answer session at the Gig Harbor Civic Center on Thursday that the ER doc stood out for a reason.
Schlicher, who just turned 30 in November, is an incredibly composed, well-spoken candidate who had focused answers for everything the 10 council members and commissioners threw at him. His wife, Jessica, also works in the health care industry. She grew up in Bremerton and works in Port Orchard, and they live in the Artondale area.
“We joke we are the 26th District,” Nathan told the assembled councils. “The only thing we’re missing is the Key Pen.”
Schlicher’s inside knowledge of the health care industry should prove to be an invaluable resource. He calls himself a non-partisan issue advocate, particularly on health care, and he told stories about vulnerable people he’s treated in the emergency room at St. Joseph Medical Center. Some simply fall through the cracks.
“My goal is to be an advocate for their problems,” he said.
Schlicher obtained a law degree from the University of Washington when he was 19, and then he went to medical school at UW. On Monday, he was named to the Senate’s Health Care, Transportation and Trade & Economic Development committees.
Iverson, a sitting commissioner for the Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District, is a longshoreman who works in Tacoma. He touched on the political climate, calling the 26th “a swing district in a swing Senate.” It was particularly applicable considering the majority coalition caucus, which includes two Democrats, has shifted control of the chamber to Republicans, 25-24.
Iverson wants the state to refocus its efforts on extending state Route 167 all the way to the Port of Tacoma, insisting it would create thousands of jobs. He also touched on the state ferry system, calling it a “mess” that needs a long-term solution.
Iverson’s hesitation to commit to running for the seat next fall cost him serious consideration for the appointment. When the council members and commissioners returned from a 15-minute executive session, Josh Brown, the chair of the Kitsap County Commissioners, quickly nominated Schlicher for the position.
“If anyone can handle the madness of the Legislature, it would have to be an ER doc,” Brown joked during the Q&A portion with Schlicher.
Stan Flemming, a Republican who represents the west side of the Narrows bridges as well as University Place for the Pierce County Council, was the only dissenting vote.
“Shame on the Democrats for giving us two very good candidates,” he joked.
Fellow council member Jim McCune abstained. The other eight votes were in favor of Schlicher, who was sworn in Monday.
It was the right choice to move forward in the 26th Legislative District.