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By Ashlynn Johnson

A special caucus of the 40th Legislative District precinct committee officers met at Bellingham’s Firehouse Arts and Events Center on Saturday, Feb. 2 to select three candidates to  fill Kevin Ranker’s Senate seat after his resignation last month.

Ranker resigned as the Washington Senate investigated allegations that he made unwanted advances towards, and inappropriately touched, a staffer in 2010, according to the report  released Friday, Feb. 1 by the Secretary of the Senate. The 10-page report by Tara Parker of the Ogden, Murphy, Wallace law firm in Seattle found Ranker had violated senate policies.

Ranker conceded in the report that, “their office dynamic was occasionally flirtatious and unprofessional,” but denied “specifically making sexual overtures” towards the staffer, according to the report.

Kristine Lytton received the first ranked position, followed by Liz Lovelett in second and Trevor Smith in third. Smith, the current Secretary Treasurer of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, did not attend the meeting on Feb. 2, and said in a statement that he would support the leading candidate on behalf of all working men and women and organized labor in the district.

Lytton previously represented the 40th Legislative District in the Washington House of Representatives for four terms, but announced her retirement last year in order to spend more time with her family. After taking some vacation time, she said she’s back and ready to hit the ground running.

“I’ve already been reviewing bills, I’ve been watching TVW,” Lytton said, who announced that she’d run again for the state Senate position in 2019/2020.

In her nomination speech, Lytton highlighted concerns about climate change and set her eyes on joining the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee. The committee is chaired by Sen. Carlyle who Lytton has already been in contact with, discussing bills.

“The governor says it so well,” Lytton said of Gov. Jay Inslee. “We’re the first generation that is seeing the big impact of climate change, and will be the last generator to be able to fix it.”

Whatcom County Council Member Rud Browne attempted to seek the nomination but was prevented because of Attorney General Ken Eikenberry’s 1987 opinion, which has acted as the default policy prescription. According to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General website, members of county commissioner boards cannot be nominated to fill legislative vacancies from joint legislative districts.

When an individual nominated Browne in protest, David McDonald of the Washington State Democratic Party's Parliamentarian substantiated the rule, saying that during the 30 years since the opinion, nobody from a county had ever sought a reversal.

“Given how long these opinions have been there, and given that the attorney general really has no interest in this outcome, it’s surprising to me that an opinion was sought by one or more people who were interested by a private law firm,” McDonald said. “Instead of calling the attorney general and saying, ‘is this opinion out of date?’ Since that hasn’t been done, I’m still assuming the opinions enforce.”

Bellingham City Council Member Pinky Vargas was thrilled at how the nominations turned out, talking of her time spent with both Lytton and Lovelett in the past. Vargas met Lovelett when they first ran for city council and discovered what the process of running was like together, she said. Vargas was elected for her first term in 2013 and Lovelett has been on the Anacortes City Council since 2014.

Lovelett, in her nomination speech, expressed concerns over the way low-income populations are disportionately affected by the state’s tax code.

“I have very a keen understanding of what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck, to have to make decisions between health care and whether or not you can afford food,” Lovelett said. “I think that perspective is just vastly underrepresented at the state level.”

Lovelett mentioned Lytton in her speech as a mentor of hers, something Vargas also expressed.

“Kris [Lytton] has been a mentor of mine for a very long time,” Vargas said. “So to see both of these women being in this position to me is so heartwarming and exciting.”

Lytton said she’s excited to go back to the legislature, and that she isn’t taking her nomination for granted.

The joint meeting of the San Juan and Whatcom County councils and the Skagit County Board of Commissioners to determine who will fill the vacant 40th Legislative District State Senate position is Tuesday, Feb. 5 beginning at 2:30 p.m. in the Skagit County Commissioners Hearing Room.

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