Wednesday, January 16, 2019
RANKER UNANCHORED: For all the scandals and shenanigans and nine lives’ escapes of the senator from the 42nd District, who’d have imagined the senator from the 40th District would be the one to fall?
Kevin Ranker resigned his position as the senior representative of the district under investigation of allegations of improper conduct. Ranker’s decision arrived days after he had notified Senate Democrats that he had decided to step down as chair of the newly proposed Environment and Tourism Committee, and to leave his leadership position as a vice chair for environment and natural resources on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. His resignation also arrives just days before the official release of findings from the investigations of claims against him.
The Orcas Island Democrat sent a letter to Jay Inslee’s office notifying the governor that he was resigning “with a heavy heart.” His resignation was effective immediately, and removes him from the 105-day legislative session that began this week.
Ranker has been under investigation since the fall, following a complaint from a former legislative assistant that he had created hostile workplace issues while she worked for him during the 2010 legislative session.
Many supporters expressed regret that Ranker chose to resign before the release of the report that might have more fully framed the details and circumstances of those complaints—part of a process that arose from revised policies based on recommendations by a bipartisan task force seeking to improve the work place for government employees in Olympia.
The procedures were an early step to address the complaints of a letter signed in November 2017 by more than 170 women representatives and staffers who called for a shift in workplace culture at the state Legislature and an end inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment in Olympia.
“When I was informed of these allegations, I immediately told the Secretary of the Senate that I would fully cooperate with any investigation, and I insisted that an impartial investigation must take place,” he noted. He was advised not to comment on the investigation.
But, as we reported in December, Ranker was largely broken by the process and expressed regret his assistant felt mistreated by him.
“I am deeply sorry for any stress I caused her and I sincerely apologize,” He noted in a press release. “I wish her peace.”
Additional matters pressed on him, including the grave illness of his father who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Ranker is currently in New York with his father.
Now comes the fraught process of replacing the Democrat until a special election can be held next year.
When a legislative district is drawn within the boundaries of a single county—such as Whatcom’s 42nd LD—a vacancy may be filled by an appointment of the county’s legislative authority, a county council. The council is guided by the recommendation of the county political party that currently controls that seat, who present three candidates for the council’s consideration.
The 40th LD, however, spans three counties. The state Democratic Party will forward the names of three potential candidates to each of those counties’ governing authority. Skagit and San Juan counties, each with three county commissioners, will deliver three votes apiece for this list of candidates; Whatcom’s seven-member council each get .42 votes for these candidates. Inconclusive results will require these three authorities to meet. If representatives of the three governments cannot select a representative the list moves on to the governor for final selection.
A good list of highly qualified candidates can, of course, ease the chaos of selection; and Kris Lytton may top that list.
The Anacortes Democrat completed her term as representative of the 40th District last session. She was replaced by Debra Lekanoff, who was sworn in in a historic ceremony in Olympia this week. Adept at the issues that face the district and able to navigate the labyrinthine corridors of Olympia, Lytton would be a fine choice to replace Ranker.
“If I am nominated, I would serve,” Lytton confirmed to the Gristle at the reorganization meeting of 40th District Democrats this week.
One of the 170 signers of that letter calling for changes in workplace culture and an occasional critic of those conditions in the Legislature, Lytton is perhaps cosmically qualified to fill Ranker’s position at this time.
Yet this column must express chagrin that Ranker was destroyed and swept from office before the investigations of complaints against him were complete and made public—a critically important component of the #MeToo movement that might yield ultimate justice for those who have suffered from harassment, those who are accused of such behavior, and the public that ultimately benefits from that justice and are the ultimate judges of its efficacy.
It is inappropriate to make a comparison between the transgressions of Sen. Kevin Ranker and the antics of Sen. Doug Ericksen, except to note that there was a legal and procedural framework with which to evaluate and respond to the 42nd District Republican’s self-dealing and double-dipping with the Environmental Protection Agency, his casual relationship with the requirements of financial disclosure, and his ambassadorial junkets to Indochina that have bemused so much of the local news cycle over the past three years.
Ericksen weathered these storms and continues on as our representative—and we must acknowledge that he was compassionate in response to the investigation and resignation of his colleague in the 40th District.
But something there is about the conditions we are creating for public life that no person of conscience can survive them; while no person without conscience need fear them.