by Erica C. Barnett
(This article was originally published on The C is for Crank and has been reprinted with permission)
Members of the 37th District Democrats have filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the King County Council from voting to fill the state Senate seat left vacant by the election of Sen. Pramila Jayapal to Congress in November.
[UPDATE: According to Knoll Lowney, one of the attorneys representing the Democratic Party members seeking to stop the appointment of a new 37th District state senator, a judge has rejected the Democrats’ request for a temporary restraining order. The order would have enjoined the King County Council from appointing a successor to Pramila Jayapal, who was elected to represent the 7th Congressional District last month. Lowney says that more than who ultimately gets appointed, “it’s critically important that we not have a process that is flawed.” The next hearing in the case is scheduled for December 23; the county council could vote on Monday, or decide on their own to wait.
[Original post follows.]
The plaintiffs, calling themselves Democrats for Diversity and Inclusion, argue in their complaint that the appointment process was effectively rigged to preclude certain precinct committee officers (PCOs) from participating, leading to the nomination of Rory O’Sullivan, the white former chairman of the district, to represent the majority-minority 37th in the Senate. The King County Council is ultimately responsible for appointing legislators to fill vacant seats, but they typically follow the lead of the PCOs. However, they are not required to do so, and have diverged from that practice in the past, as Josh Feit pointed out on PubliCola this week.
In addition to stopping the vote scheduled for Monday, the lawsuit seeks to force the King County Democratic Central Committee to hold a second vote, this one including all the appointed PCOs (PCOs who were appointed by other PCOs, in this case PCOs from parts of the district that are more heavily populated by people of color) excluded from the process, and submit the list of candidates that results from that process to the council for a decision. (According to the lawsuit, 115 PCOs were excluded from voting; of the 106 who were eligible under the disputed rules, 82 voted.)
In 2012, the 37th was created explicitly as a majority-minority district, and the second- and third-place runners-up in the PCO vote were Puget Sound Sage director Rebecca Saldana and Shasti Conrad, both women of color. Another woman of color, NAACP leader Sheley Secrest, was also in the running. The lawsuit claims the exclusion of the appointed PCOs constitutes deliberate “ethnic discrimination” that led to the choice of O’Sullivan instead of one of the many people of color on the ballot. “The 115 PCOs who were illegally disenfranchised represent more than 40,000 registered 37th District voters in precincts that are primarily African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and People of Color,” the proposed order says.
In total disregard for state law and party rules and to create a favorable electorate for certain candidates, former KCDCC Chair Richard Erwin delayed the nominating caucus until the terms of all 115 appointed PCOs expired, but before the party organization could reconvene to appoint replacement PCOs. KCDCC then refused all appointed PCOs their right to vote in the nominating caucus, something that is unprecedented in the history of the 37th District. Such procedural gamesmanship is not permitted. Party rules explicitly mandate that the nominating caucus include both elected and appointed PCOs. Furthermore, federal and state law prohibit KCDCC from disenfranchising and discriminating against appointed PCOs.
A hearing is reportedly under way right now in King County Superior Court; an update will be posted when the court issues a ruling on the case. Read the full complaint here, and the proposed order enjoining the county council from voting here.
Feature image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Ryan Welsh/ Flickr