Rolfes is Democrats' top choice to succeed Rockefeller in state Senate

Rep. Christine Rolfes ... precinct committee officers
Rep. Christine Rolfes ... precinct committee officers' top choice for state Senate appointee.
— image credit: Office of Rep. Christine Rolfes

BREMERTON — State Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge, is the No. 1 choice of Kitsap County Democratic Party precinct committee officers for appointment to the Senate seat vacated by Phil Rockefeller, who is now on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

On the first ballot, Rolfes received 34 votes. In subsequent voting to determine the second choice, county Planning Commissioner Jim Sommerhauser and Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern tied at 19 each. On the final ballot, Sommerhauser received 21 votes, Stern received 17.

Sommerhauser, a Kitsap County Democrats board member, had said he applied because the Democratic Party needed three candidates; in an earlier interview, he said he considered Rolfes the obvious choice.

The caucus was Tuesday night at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. About 43 precinct committee officers attended, county party chairman Mike Arnold said. Each candidate gave a five-minute opening statement, followed by two-minute responses to questions, and a two-minute closing statement.

The list will be forwarded to the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, which will interview the candidates and make an appointment. Rolfes said it was her understanding the appointment could be made next week.

This was the first time since 1943 that 23rd District Democrats went through the process of vetting and recommending candidates for appointment to a Senate vacancy; on Nov. 30 of that year, Gertrude L. Johnson was appointed to succeed Charles L. Klinefelter, who had resigned to become executive director of the Port Orchard Housing Authority (Klinefelter had been appointed only 11 months earlier, after Lulu D. Haddon resigned).

If Rolfes is appointed, the process will be repeated to appoint someone to her House seat.

Arnold said the selection of Rolfes, in her third House term, was “weighted more toward what she had to say” than on name recognition.

“I was impressed with all the candidates and what they had to say,” Arnold said. “Christine has the advantage of being able to speak to the job. Jim has been a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and head of a union. Ed is a Poulsbo city councilman. All have experience and all could speak well to that position.”

Rolfes talked about taking to the Senate the work she’s done in the House — fighting for education funding, environmental protections for Puget Sound, and creating a strong foundation for jobs creation.

“In the Senate, I’ll have a stronger voice to do that,” she said.

Rolfes said government doesn’t create jobs, it creates the infrastructure and the climate for the private sector to create jobs. She said the district needs a strong transportation system, affordable ferry fares, and investment in higher education. She said the state has tax policies in place that can help revitalize commercial areas in the district, like Wheaton Way in Bremerton.

Stern pitched changes he sees as necessary to economic recovery, jobs creation, and protecting the state against future economic downturns.

“There needs to be a partnership between government and the private sector. The recession underlines that,” he said. “If we don’t address the revenue and expenditure gap, we will continue to have a cycle of boom and bust.”

He suggests raising the exemption on the business and occupation tax, or B&O, from $20,000 to $100,000 to help small businesses; taxing the incomes of individuals earning $250,000 a year or more and couples earning $500,000 a year or more; and reducing property tax and sales tax. He proposes putting a “lockbox” on the ability of future legislators to raise property and sales taxes, to calm the fear that voters had when they turned down the state income tax in 2010.

Rolfes and Stern agreed that coming up with solutions to the state’s financial woes will take courage as much as creativity. Stern said legislators have to be willing to risk being voted out of office for decisions they must make. Rolfes added, “You have to do your job in Olympia knowing every issue could be unpopular. You have to go in with the attitude that you’re doing the best job you can for the state. There’s no room for pandering.”

Stern said Wednesday he didn’t know if he would apply for Rolfes’ House seat if she advances to the Senate. “I just got through with last night, so honestly I haven’t gotten there.” Three other district residents have expressed an interest, but Rolfes said there could be more.

The three who have expressed an interest so far: Hilary Franz, a Bainbridge Island City Council member; Drew Hansen, partner in a Seattle law firm; and Holly Mortlock, a former social studies teacher and legislative assistant to state Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle.


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