Commissioners choose Rivers to succeed Zarelli

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor



Republican state Rep. Ann Rivers of La Center was appointed Monday to finish the last four months of Joe Zarelli’s Senate term.

Before making their unanimous decision, the six Clark and Cowlitz county commissioners heard from the other two candidates nominated last week by Republican precinct committee officers: state House candidate Liz Pike and Battle Ground precinct officer Cindy Johnson.

Pike and Johnson said they did not want the appointment and asked the commissioners to pick Rivers, who had already announced she will seek the state Senate seat this fall.

Last month, Zarelli described Rivers as the obvious choice to complete his term because she is already running this fall.

When it came time for Rivers to make her case before the commissioners, Rivers said she wanted the Senate appointment because “now more than ever, there’s still a lot of work to be done” in Olympia. She also said: “I have a record already of doing the right thing as opposed to doing what special interests want.”

Commissioners quizzed Rivers on her stances on local hot topics such as whether railroads should be able to haul coal through Clark County, and how she would help oversee the project to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge.

When it comes to the coal train proposal, “we have to be open minded and make sure a full review is done before we shut something down,” Rivers said. “There’s a process that’s been established, and I think we need to follow it and make sure that we look at all of the factors and not just respond to fear.”

As a state representative, Rivers was placed on the recently created Columbia River Crossing legislative oversight committee. She told commissioners that she’s been invited to serve on that oversight committee as a state senator.

“I will seek to include our citizens in our discussion about that and make sure we’re getting the best possible project for our dollar and creating that level of accountability with both (Oregon and Washington departments of transportation),” she told commissioners. “Since this is a regional project, that accountability has to extend across the river as well.”

Rivers also gave commissioners a sneak peek at a proposal she would support next year as a senator.

“What I’ll be pushing for is legislation that will require that (agency) rules have to be approved by the Legislature before they’re implemented,” she said, shortly after criticizing burdensome and sometimes contradictory regulations created by agencies such as the state’s Department of Ecology. “I was approached by a logger last week who showed me two rules that said precisely opposite things. … The rule-making process has gotten out of hand.”

Once commissioners approved Rivers, she immediately resigned her House seat and was sworn in as the 18th District senator by Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis.

Rivers described herself as “honored, humbled and ready to go.” She said she would travel to Olympia this morning to receive a Senate orientation, and check out her new office.

Rivers was elected to the 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.

As a representative, Rivers sat on the Business and Financial Services, Transportation, Judiciary and Rules committees. The Rules Committee decides which bills to send to a vote on the House floor.

Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, announced on May 18 that he would not run for re-election. Less than two weeks later, he announced his resignation and said Rivers should replace him.

Rivers will serve as interim senator until December, when the senator selected by voters in November’s general election will take the helm. That senator could be Rivers or her Democratic challenger, Ralph Schmidt.

Another appointment process will need to take place to fill Rivers’ now-vacated House seat. Former 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.

The process to appoint Rivers’ replacement is expected to work just as it did to appoint her. Republican precinct committee officers in Clark and Cowlitz counties will vote on potential replacements and submit at least three candidate names to the six county commissioners in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

County commissioners will have 60 days from the date of Rivers’ resignation to pick someone from the submitted list of candidates. If commissioners cannot reach a decision within the 60-day window, the governor then has 30 days to make the appointment from the submitted list of Republicans.