We have just received word that a Republican Washington State Senator, Mike Carrell of Lakewood, has died due to complications of a blood condition. While it may seem a bit macabre to discuss the political implications of this so soon, depending on how ruthless things are, this could affect the Columbia River Crossing. Prior to Senator Carrell’s death, the GOP held a 25-24 advantage in the State Senate, including two Democrats who defected to the GOP (and were awarded the offices of President Pro Tempore and Speaker, respectively, as a result). Opposition to the current CRC within the Senate has been on party lines, with the GOP majority (including the turncoat Democrats) so far refusing to fund any crossing that includes light rail. The passing of Senator Carrell may throw this up into the air.
According to Ballotpedia,
If there is a vacancy in the Senate, the Board of County Commissioners where the vacant seat is located has the responsibility to select a replacement. The state central committee of the political party that last held the seat must submit a list of three candidates to the Board of County Commissioners representing the vacant district. A selection must be made within 60 days after the vacancy happened.
Pierce County, in which Lakewood (a Tacoma suburb) is located, has a GOP-dominated County Council (out of seven members, five are Republicans). That, and state law, combine to ensure that the late Senator’s eventual replacement will be a Republican. Until this happens, however, there is essentially a 24-24 tie in the Senate, and ties are broken by the Lieutenant Governor, currently Democrat Brad Owen, who otherwise has no vote. Given the bad blood that has occurred this term–one has to wonder: Might Senate Democrats attempt to take advantage of the vacancy to ram their own agenda through (including ousting–even if temporarily–the current leadership)–including passage of CRC funding? The fact that the GOP controls county government may limit the impact of this–any shenanigans in Olympia might result in a swift appointment from the Pierce County council (whereas a Democratic-dominated council might elect to wait the full 60 days before appointing a replacement). But if Olympia Democrats wanted to jam something through, they might have enough time in the interim to do so…