Clark County to lose clout in Capitol

Departure of Pridemore, Zarelli leaves big shoes to fill

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OLYMPIA — Clark County stands to lose considerable clout — and perhaps an actual voice — on the powerful Senate Ways & Means Committee with the departure of Craig Pridemore and Joseph Zarelli. But several would-be Southwest Washington senators say they would like to succeed them.

The committee develops operating and capital budgets, as well as tax and pension policies. At the end of his term, Pridemore, D-Vancouver, will have served eight consecutive years, some of them as vice chairman of the operating budget. Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, sat on Ways & Means for more than 15 years, and held a leadership position for the last eight years until his recent resignation.

Secretary of Senate Tom Hoemann said senators are placed on the committee by their party's caucus. After an election, the majority party decides on the size and structure of the committee. The parties then pick senators to sit on the committee.

But those chosen to sit on Ways & Means aren't always veteran senators — first-term senators have served before. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, and Nick Harper, D-Everett, were both appointed to the commit

tee during their first term.

While this is not common, Hoemann said committee appointments depend on a senator's expertise, interest and experience in an area.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, also began serving on the budget-writing committee as a freshman.

Those in Clark County have a chance to do the same, he said. Of all the candidates with a shot at Ways & Means, Rep. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who is running to fill Zarelli's seat, is the county's best prospect, he said.

Schoesler said Zarelli played a crucial role on the committee, and that it will take time for his replacement to gain the expert knowledge of the former senator.

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, has served on the Ways & Means Committee for about 18 years. With the departure of Pridemore and Zarelli, the committee will lose a huge amount of knowledge and experience, she said.

In fact, about a third of the senators on the committee are leaving the Senate for various reasons. This will leave a hole in the committee that the parties will fill after November elections.

Fraser said the odds are good that a Clark County senator will be selected to the committee.

"It's very important to have a reasonable statewide balance in Ways & Means," she said.

While she said it's helpful for a community to have representation on the budget-writing committee, it doesn't guarantee benefits for the area.

Candidate outlook

While none can boast the expertise or clout of Zarelli or Pridemore, many candidates are gunning for a Ways & Means seat.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, is running unopposed in the 14th District, which newly includes a tiny portion of unincorporated Clark County above Washougal. While he currently sits on the Senate Transportation Committee, he is interested in sitting on Ways & Means to help write the budget, he said.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, has served in the Senate for nearly 16 years but has never sat on Ways & Means. Benton did not return calls from The Columbian. His challenger for the 17th District Senate seat, Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, currently sits on the House Education and Rules committees. He said he would be very interested in sitting on the budget committee if elected.

Probst said he has a good shot at a seat on the committee due to his current position as vice chairman of the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee and experience as a chief executive and budget analyst.

In the 18th, Zarelli leaves big shoes to fill. Rivers is running for the seat in the November election and is expected to receive the interim nomination to fill Zarelli's vacant position. Rivers currently sits on the House Transportation Committee, but would prefer to sit on Ways & Means if elected to the Senate, she said.

Rivers said she's confident that the party leaders will match the needs of the regions with the interests of the senators.

"It's very important for Southwest Washington to have representation on Ways & Means," she said.

Ralph Schmidt, a former U.S. Department of Treasury worker, is also running for Zarelli's seat, but could not be reached.

Republican John Braun, who is running in the 20th District against incumbent Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, said he would like to sit on the committee if elected.

The third Republican in that race, Rae Lowry, said she too is interested to better promote her ideas to revive the economy.

Swecker currently sits on the Senate Transportation Committee. Senators rarely sit on Transportation and Ways & Means at the same time because the two committees hold a lot of power.

The 20th District now bulges down from Cowlitz County to take in the Woodland area and part of north Clark County.

In Pridemore's west Vancouver district, the 49th, GOP candidate Eileen Qutub said she would like to sit on the budget-writing committee if elected. The former Oregon state senator said her time on Ways & Means in Oregon has given her the necessary experience for helping the state stay within its budget.

Democrat Annette Cleveland, who is also running for Pridemore's seat, said though she would like to sit on Ways & Means, her first priority in serving the 49th District would be transportation.

Anna Marum: 360-754-5427; Twitter: Col_Olympia.