Wylie appointed to vacant House seat

Former lobbyist for Clark County will get straight to work on state budget




Sharon Wylie, a 61-year-old former legislative lobbyist for Clark County and former Oregon legislator, is the newest member of the Washington Legislature.

Clark County commissioners appointed Wylie, a Democrat, shortly after noon Wednesday to succeed Jim Jacks as a state representative from Vancouver’s 49th Legislative District. Jacks, who was serving his second term, resigned March 25.

Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Johnson administered the oath of office.

“I’m particularly honored to be selected from such excellent company,” Wylie said afterward. “I’ll do my very best.”

She planned to drive to Olympia later in the day, and will take her seat in the House chambers when the House of Representatives convenes at 10 a.m. today, as the Legislature enters the final stretch of a grueling budget process.

She will be recognized on the House floor by state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, her fellow 49th District representative, who is speaker pro tem this session. She will also receive her committee assignments, though most of the work of legislative policy committees has been completed for the session. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn April 24.

The vote for Wylie was unanimous, though Commissioner Marc Boldt disclosed that in the first round of balloting, he had voted for candidate Temple Lentz, who ran Tim Leavitt’s successful 2009 campaign for mayor of Vancouver. The third finalist for the appointment was Jeremy Zegas, a legislative aide to state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver.

The three finalists were chosen by 49th District Democratic precinct committee officers Monday night from a field of seven. The commissioners discussed the candidates in executive session Wednesday morning before announcing their choice.

In a 90-minute question-and-answer session preceding the vote, commissioners grilled the finalists separately on issues ranging from the looming state budget deficit to unfunded mandates to their views on the Columbia River Crossing.

Commissioner Steve Stuart asked all three whether they would be prepared to vote for the budget the state House released last week to deal with a $5.1 billion state budget deficit over the next two years. With 11 days to go in the session, he noted that the new legislator’s most important job will be to vote on the budget.

Wylie, 61, said she would be inclined to support ways to protect the social safety net and education in the face of budget cuts. If appointed, she said, “I will be spending a lot of time trying to mitigate the damage done.”

Lentz said she would talk to constituents before making a decision and would want to make sure the cuts in the budget are “as moral as possible.”

Zegas responded, “The most important thing we can do is pass a balanced budget and not waste taxpayers’ money by going into a special session.”

“It’s going to be a painful budget,” he said. Asked by Mielke what he would do to balance the budget, he said it’s important to respect the will of the voters, who rejected tax increases last November, and that means passing an all-cuts budget.

Former advocate

Wylie, who is married to Vancouver City Attorney Ted Gathe, advocated for several key county projects during eight years as an Olympia lobbyist for Clark County and other local governments beginning in 2001.

In her introductory comments, she noted she was part of a team that won funding for the Clark County Center for Community Health. She said she also fought successfully for $40 million in state funding to complete the Salmon Creek-Interstate 5 interchange, lobbied successfully to get a new state crime lab located in Vancouver instead of Spokane, and worked to save the county shortline railroad.

“I will fight to give the county the tools and the flexibility to do its job,” Wylie pledged. “Everything the state does has an impact on counties.”

Asked by Mielke how she felt about using gimmicks like predicting revenue windfalls to balance the state budget, Wylie said, “Fifteen or twenty years ago, I would have found it easier to go along with that. It’s called ‘mitigation of disaster.’ I’m older and wiser now.” But she said it would be naive to give a simplified answer.

Questioned by Stuart regarding what issues and committee assignments she would like to pursue in the Legislature, Wylie said she’d like to put her knowledge of local government issues to good use, but she also hopes to learn new things, and is especially attracted to technology and job creation.

Mielke was the only commissioner to grill candidates about the Columbia River Crossing. Is it a good idea, he asked, to keep spending millions on design and planning for a new Interstate 5 bridge before C-Tran voters get a chance to vote in 2012 on a sales tax hike to fund operation of a light rail extension in Vancouver?

“I’m generally in favor of getting lots of input on any public issue,” said Wylie, who also lobbied on behalf of C-Tran in Olympia.

But she said it will be important to frame the vote correctly and to let people know “what they are being asked to pony up for.”

Wylie added that she’s no fan of the way the $3.4 billion bridge and transit project has unfolded so far. ‘It’s an expensive, flawed process that went on too long without coming to resolution,” she said. “But I’m not sure I could have designed a better system. I believe we need a bridge. I believe the funding is really complicated.”

She likely scored points with commissioners when she said the state has not always kept its promises to counties, as when it vowed to adequately fund public health services and programs to track sex offenders, but later cut support for both. “Those promises weren’t kept, and I think that’s wrong,” she said.

The 49th District covers Vancouver’s west side and much of Hazel Dell. Following a legal process set up to pick successors to legislators who resign in the middle of their term, the party that held the seat (in this case, the Democratic Party), chooses three finalists and forwards their names to the county commissioners in the district. The commissioners make the final appointment. In this case, two Republicans and one Democrat (Stuart) made the final choice.

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523; kathie.durbin@columbian.com.