Rivers nearly a lock to succeed Zarelli

Commissioners likely to appoint GOP's top choice to Senate seat

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

 
photoRep. Ann Rivers

Republicans picked state Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, on Monday evening as their top choice to finish out the Senate term most recently held by Republican Joseph Zarelli, who resigned from his 18th District seat on May 31.

The group of 34 precinct committee officers from Clark and Cowlitz counties were required to pick three finalists for the interim Senate appointment, but it was apparent during the nomination process that they overwhelmingly favored Rivers, who is already running this November to replace Zarelli.

The group also nominated Cindy Johnson, a precinct committee officer from Battle Ground, and Liz Pike, who is running for state representative.

The party will send those three women's names on to the six commissioners in Clark and Cowlitz counties, who are expected to pick Rivers next week. The list of names sent to the commissioners are ranked with Rivers as the top choice, and it's unusual for commissioners to vote against a political party's wishes during this type of appointment process, Washington State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur said.

When it came time for Johnson and Pike to address the crowd at the Battle Ground Community Center on Monday evening, they both made it clear that they did not want the appointment.

"I appreciate the nomination, but I would urge you to support Ann Rivers," Johnson said.

Pike followed with: "I'm flattered by whoever it was that nominated me. I, too, am supporting Ann."

Before the nomination process even began, one precinct committee officer asked if Republicans could just submit a ballot with Rivers' name listed three times, rather than having to nominate three different people. The rules were fuzzy on that, so the group decided to pick Rivers, followed by Johnson and then Pike.

When it came time for Rivers to address the group, she said her top priorities in the Legislature have been those outlined in the state's constitution: education, protecting the vulnerable, public safety and basic infrastructure.

"I appreciate you coming here to do your civic duty," she told the committee officers. "I've served for the past couple years. In that time, I've been able to uphold the conservative values that I committed to when I asked you to vote for me the first time."

Rivers was elected to the Washington state House in 2010. In 2007, she was one of three finalists for appointment to a vacant 18th District seat, which went to current U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas.

"It's very, very exciting," Rivers said following Monday's meeting. "I'm just thrilled that the PCOs have put their faith and trust in me."

In the rare event that Rivers doesn't receive the appointment and Johnson or Pike does, neither could run for re-election to the Senate seat in November. They aren't registered as candidates in that race and the deadline to file for candidacy has passed.

If Rivers is appointed, Republicans will need to meet again to appoint someone to finish out Rivers' House term. Clark County Republican Chairman Brandon Vick is the only candidate running to replace Rivers in the House, and he has said he will seek the interim appointment.

Zarelli announced on May 18 that he would not run for re-election. Less than two weeks later, he announced his resignation and said that Rivers is the obvious choice for the interim appointment.

The appointee picked by commissioners will serve in office until December, when the senator selected by voters in November's general election will take the helm. If commissioners cannot pick from the three candidates within the 60 days following Zarelli's resignation, then the governor has 30 days to choose between Rivers, Johnson and Pike.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics