Could he be Rep. Mielke again?

Maybe, until January, if Rivers is appointed to fill Zarelli's seat

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Talk about the process to name an appointment to fill the final months of state Sen. Joseph Zarelli's term took a surprising turn Wednesday that ended up with: Could Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke become State Rep. Tom Mielke again, at least for a few months?

Mielke and fellow commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt were discussing how State Rep. Ann Rivers will be a likely choice for the appointment, since she has filed to run for Zarelli's seat in the state Senate.

Zarelli said Tuesday he'd resign, effective today, rather than serve the remainder of his term. He called Rivers — who will have an opponent in November, Democrat Ralph Schmidt of Camas — the obvious choice for the appointment.

Commissioners took no action Wednesday but clarified with Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter that the appointment will be made based on the 18th District boundaries in place at the time Zarelli was elected, so Cowlitz County commissioners will also vote on the appointment. The redistricted 18th does not include Cowlitz County.

Commissioners have until July 31 — 60 days from Zarelli's resignation — to make the appointment.

Republican precinct committee officers can submit three names.

Commissioners did ask Potter what would happen if they didn't make an appointment. State law says that, if commissioners don't act within 60 days, the governor has 30 days to make the appointment.

If Rivers is sworn in as a senator, she would have to resign her House seat — and commissioners would have another appointment to make.

Two Republicans, Brandon Vick and Adrian Cortes, have filed to run for Rivers' seat. No Democrats filed.

Mielke said the Clark County GOP won't make an endorsement in the race between Vick, the party's chairman, and Cortes, a Battle Ground City Council member.

If the party endorses the eventual loser, it will make the party look like it's out of touch with voters, Mielke said.

Likewise, commissioners would be forced to choose between Vick and Cortes, likely after the Aug. 7 primary but before the Nov. 6 general election.

Stuart said it would make sense for Mielke, a former 18th District representative, to put his name in for the appointment and serve as a placeholder until January, when either Vick or Cortes will take office.

Potter confirmed that a county commissioner can serve simultaneously as a state legislator.

Mielke laughed but he didn't say no. Commissioners earn $102,228 a year for what's considered a full-time job, while state lawmakers earn an annual salary of $42,106. Mielke, if he took office, would draw a salary even though he wouldn't have to be in Olympia often, as the next legislative session wouldn't start until January.

Asked after the meeting whether he would submit his name to precinct committee officers for the appointment, Mielke said he wouldn't comment. Maybe he'd put those few months to good use.

As a state lawmaker, he said, "I might have more say on the bridge."

Both Vick and Cortes have said they would apply for the appointment, should Rivers be appointed to fill Zarelli's seat.

Cortes said Wednesday he could see the logic of having Mielke serve as a placeholder rather than commissioners giving one candidate the advantage of an appointment.

"In the end, it's best that voters get to choose," Cortes said.

Vick didn't have a comment as to Mielke's involvement but agreed that it's wise for voters to have the final say.

Mielke will be on the ballot for commissioner this year, as he's up for re-election. He's drawn four opponents: Democrats Ron Barca and Joe Tanner, Republican Darren Wertz and Bob Freund, an independent.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.