The Pierce County Republican Party scrambled Thursday to expedite the replacement of state Sen. Mike Carrell, who died Wednesday of complications from treatment for a blood disorder.
At a hastily called evening meeting, county GOP officials chose former Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri, freshman Rep. Steve O’Ban and University Place City Councilman Javier Figueroa — with Muri as their top pick.
Those names go to the Pierce County Council, which has 60 days from the date of the vacancy to appoint one person from the list.
The earliest the council could name Carrell’s replacement is June 11 — which also happens to be the last day of the Legislature’s 30-day special session.
That timeline is prompting questions about what the Lakewood Republican’s death will do to the balance of power in the state Senate, which has been led by a GOP-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus made up of 23 Republicans and two maverick Democrats.
Without Carrell, the coalition stands at 24 members — the same number of Democrats who remain in the Senate Democratic Caucus — raising the specter of a tie that could prompt rare intervention by Democratic Lt. Gov. Brad Owen that would allow the Democrats to pass a budget.
Control of the Senate is important because Democrats already control the House and governor’s office, and the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus has been resisting the Democrats’ proposals to raise taxes.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen contends he has the power to vote and break a 24-24 tie in order to pass a bill. But his legal authority to do so has not been tested. One section of the state constitution authorizes the lieutenant governor to cast the deciding vote. Another implies that passage of a bill requires a vote of a majority of elected members, suggesting the lieutenant governor, as presiding officer, could not break a tie to pass the budget.
In 2009, Owen voted to break a tie and pass a local-options tax bill. Coincidentally, it was Carrell who raised a question on the floor as to whether Owen had that right. Carrell pointed out that Senate rules don’t allow the presiding officer to cast the deciding vote on final passage of a bill.
Owen was away hunting Thursday and could not be reached to comment. But in 2009, he said the constitution trumped Senate rules, and he has pointed out that his vote in 2009 was never legally challenged.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Karen Fraser of Thurston County said that Carrell’s “untimely death” has not changed the situation from when he was ill and absent from floor sessions. Although Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam was providing votes on procedural matters for Carrell, Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle had said that Hargrove would not be providing the Republicans a vote for the budget.
Despite quick action by the party this week, filling the 28th District vacancy will take time. The county council must give at least one week’s notice of an appointment hearing, Pierce County spokesman Hunter George said. The process requires the council to add an appointment resolution to its consent agenda — which the council could do as early as Tuesday — and to schedule a hearing at least a week later.
The council could name someone following that hearing, and the appointee could be sworn into office immediately, according to the secretary of state’s office.
In the unlikely event the Pierce council doesn’t appoint someone to replace Carrell by late July, the decision falls to Gov. Jay Inslee, who must pick from the same list of names provided by the county party.
Whomever is appointed to fill Carrell’s seat would not have to stand for election until the fall of 2014. That’s because the appointee would have missed the ballot deadline for this year’s election. The 2014 runoff for the seat would seek to fill the remaining two years of Carrell’s term.