Politics & Government

Nonpartisan staff leaders come with both sides’ backing

The nonpartisan staff in the state Senate is getting ready for lawmakers’ return in January with leaders backed by both political parties.

That might not be particularly notable except for the controversy that accompanied the departure of the previous staff director and his deputy. Democrats said they were improperly fired by Republican leaders.

But both sides praised the new director of nonpartisan staff, Susan Howson, a former committee staffer on the House side who was chosen in a unanimous vote by a five-member panel of senators.

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, called Howson “exceptionally well qualified” and “went right to the top” of candidates vetted by a search firm. Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said she has “a very strong focus on a nonpartisan culture for our Senate committee services.”

More recently, senators agreed unanimously to Howson’s choice of Curt Gavigan as deputy director, a job he will split with his other duties staffing a natural-resources committee.