Republican officials in Washington’s 5th Legislative District were completely blindsided by the news on Tuesday that Maple Valley incumbent Sen. Cheryl Pflug was abruptly ending her re-election bid to accept an appointed position with the state, and they believe Gov. Christine Gregoire’s fingerprints are all over the decision.

“This is so transparent,” said 5th District GOP Chair Bob Brunjes. “It’s not a question of what I think, it’s what I know happened. And this is nothing short of a sleazy, backroom deal to take away a Senate seat the Democrats otherwise could never have won.”

Pflug, who announced a day earlier that she had accepted an invitation from Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire to serve on the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, apparently did not inform party officials of her plans in advance and, in fact, had filed paperwork last week with the Secretary of State’s Office to run for a third term from the 5th District.

“She didn’t tell anyone in our office or anyone at the state level,” Brunjes said. “Nor did she tell anyone in elected office, including (5th District Rep.) Jay Rodne, and that’s the real travesty here.”

Brunjes said Rodne has long had an interest in running for the Senate and would have jumped at the chance if he’d known Pflug was vacating her seat.

“A lot of people in Olympia have been encouraging him to run against her,” Brunjes said. “But he wouldn’t do it. He said that was Cheryl’s seat and he wouldn’t run until she decided to give it up. That’s what he gets for being an honorable person.”

“Cheryl is well-respected by both sides of the aisle as an effective problem solver and has served her constituents well,” Gregoire said in announcing Pflug’s appointment. “Her legislative experience and commitment to serve will be a great asset to the work of the board and I welcome her to this new role.”

“It’s an honor and privilege to receive this appointment by Gov. Gregoire,” Pflug responded. “I’m excited for the opportunity to continue serving the citizens of our great state in another capacity and look forward to the challenges ahead.”

Meanwhile, Pflug’s abrupt withdrawal from the race four days after the week-long filing period for state offices has already closed leaves Snoqualmie mortgage banker Bob Toft, a political newcomer, as the only Republican in the race against Democrat Mark Mullet, a former Issaquah City Council member.

“The pity is that we had things all set up in the event Cheryl had decided not to run,” Brunjes said. “Rodne would have given up his seat in the House to run for the Senate, and I had a local mayor ready to run for Rodne’s seat.

“It isn’t that we can’t hold that seat now,” he said. “But it’s going to be a whole lot harder than it would have been if we hadn’t been deliberately deceived about (Pflug’s) intentions.”

Pflug’s new post comes with a six-year term and a $92,500 salary. She will be replacing Margaret Pageler, of Seattle, in the board’s Position 6. The latter’s term expires on June 30.

A Registered Nurse by profession who just earned her law degree from Seattle University this spring, Pflug’s only job currently is state senator, which has a salary of around $40,000 per year.

“Ordinarily you’d want someone in that position with some experience in land-use law,” Brunjes said. “Cheryl has none whatsoever. She’s a nurse. She only got her law degree a few weeks ago and she isn’t even licensed to practice yet. But she’s getting a new job that will more than double her income.

“It doesn’t take too much imagination to connect the dots,” he said.

Pflug was also one of only a handful of Republican lawmakers in either House who broke party ranks during this year’s legislative session to vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage – one of Gregoire’s pet issues.

“I don’t necessarily think this job is a payoff for that vote,” Brunjes said. “This is a pretty moderate district on social issues to begin with, and I don’t think it would have hurt her. She was still totally electable even after that vote.”

Democrats currently enjoy a three-seat advantage in the Senate – a margin so slim Republicans were able to persuade three Democrats to vote with them on a reform budget this year, temporarily giving the minority party a working majority on fiscal matters.

And knowing the GOP base would be energized this fall by candidates for president and governor currently leading in public opinion polls, in addition to a ballot referendum to repeal the same-sex marriage law, Republican leaders were openly speculating about taking control of that body in November.

“That mountain’s gonna be a lot harder to climb now that we have to defend a seat we didn’t expect we’d need to defend,” Brunjes said. “The Democrats are known for playing the whole chess board, but we’re not just going to roll over for them. We’ll still have something to say about who represents the 5th District.”


[Reprinted with permission from The Olympia Watch]