School board member Carol Gregory of Federal Way will become the newest member of the state House, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.
Inslee’s appointment of Gregory ends two months of questions and wrangling about who would replace state Rep. Roger Freeman, a Federal Way Democrat who died in October after a cancer battle but was still reelected six days later.
Initially, Democratic party officials waffled on when to hold a meeting to pick their top three nominees for the seat, debating whether to let outgoing precinct committee officers choose candidates in November or let a new group of officers decide in December.
Then, the Pierce and King County councils argued over whether they must hold a joint meeting to pick Freeman’s replacement, or could vote separately to select one of the three Democratic candidates.
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The decision went to Inslee after the King and Pierce county councils didn’t agree on who should replace Freeman within 60 days of his death.
Gregory was Democratic party officials’ top choice to fill the vacancy. The other two finalists for the position were Richard Champion, a chemical engineer by training, and Shari Song, a realtor who lost a state Senate race to Republican Mark Miloscia in November.
Gregory, who until last month served as the president of the Federal Way School Board, will represent the 30th Legislative District, which includes Federal Way, Milton, Algona, Pacific and portions of Des Moines and Auburn.
In addition to her time on the school board, Gregory previously served as president of the Washington Education Association, the state teacher’s union. The former teacher also has worked for the King County executive’s office, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and for the administration of former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner.
“Carol has outstanding experience at both the state and local government levels which makes her ready to hit the ground running for an important legislative session,” Inslee said in a press release. “I know she’s prepared to be engaged on the issues she cares about most – education, local government and human services.”
Gregory’s will hold the office until November, when a special election will be held to determine who will fill the last 13 months of Freeman’s two-year term.
Gregory said Thursday that she believes her experience as a teacher, school board member and union president gives her valuable insight when it comes to solving the state’s current education-funding crisis. The Legislature is under order by the state Supreme Court to increase funding for basic education, with a deadline of fully funding public schools by 2018.
“I really have seen education from a variety of sides,” Gregory said. “There’s a lot of complexity that most people don’t know. I won’t say I know everything, but I do know a lot.”
The chairman of the Pierce County Council said in a press release Thursday that he is happy with Inslee’s selection of Gregory, though he still questions the legality of King County’s approach to the appointment.
“I expect she’ll do an outstanding job representing her constituents in the House,” Council Chairman Dan Roach said.
State law says legislative vacancies in districts that cross county lines must be filled through a joint decision of those counties’ governing bodies.
Yet in debating how to replace Freeman, King County officials argued that the two county councils could make a joint decision even if they voted on different days and times.
Pierce County officials disagreed.
Though the King County Council held its own meeting Dec. 8 and picked Gregory for the position, the Pierce County Council never named its preferred candidate.