Rep. Deb Wallace is accusing Rep. Jaime Herrera of shirking her duties by being absent from the House floor “for hours on end” during key votes over the last few weeks in order to campaign — a charge Herrera flatly denies.
Wallace, D-Vancouver, first made the accusation Saturday at a neighborhood meeting at which she announced she was bowing out of the 3rd Congressional District race.
She repeated it in an interview with The Columbian on Monday, saying Herrera is asking other Republicans to cast votes for her while she is absent from the floor.
“Either she is in the building fundraising, which is illegal, or she is off campus and she has not been excused,” Wallace said.
Herrera, R-Camas, angrily denied that she was absent in order to campaign.
“Deb has no credibility, she has no proof,” Herrera said.
She said that as deputy floor leader for the House Republican caucus, she was busy last week organizing testimony in opposition to suspending Initiative 960, a voter-approved measure that requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber to raise taxes.
“I have missed 10 votes in my entire time as a legislator here,” she said. “I haven’t missed any votes (by being) off the floor this session. I’ve been on the House floor fighting for I-960. As a floor leader, part of my responsibility is to manage the floor debate.”
Another part of her job is to meet with constituents, Herrera said. “This last week, we were on the House floor the whole time. I met with faculty from Clark College. If a constituent comes from Southwest Washington, I will meet with them.”
At her request, three people who met with Herrera off the House floor on Feb. 10, 16 and 18 contacted The Columbian to confirm those meetings.
Wallace insists she knows what she saw with her own eyes.
“I was on the House floor hours a day last week before the cutoff” for passage of bills, Wallace said. “When I look across, I’m looking at Jaime Herrera’s empty desk. I’m looking across and watching people vote for her for hours on end. I’m seeing them go into to caucus and come out and still vote for her. This has been going on all session. When there are key votes, she is there.”
“This is not the kind of integrity that is right for our district,” Wallace said. “I’m offended by this.”
It’s common in the House chambers, where members vote electronically, for seat mates to cast votes for each other if a member is in the wings or in the caucus room. No rule prevents the practice. The vote by proxy is not recorded as “absent” or “excused,” and there is no way to document who actually pushed the button.
Wallace said she has asked others to cast votes for her occasionally, and other House members do so when, for example, they leave the floor for meals.
“This is a far different situation,” she said. “This is an integrity issue.”
House Republican leader Richard DeBolt said members of the leadership in both parties typically spend time off the floor during floor sessions.
“The House speaker is never on the floor,” DeBolt said. “I’m not on the floor all the time. Leadership has to track amendments, talk to members. The other day the whole leadership was right off the floor in the wings working on I-960.”
DeBolt said he had not noticed any change in Herrera’s attendance this session.
“If (members) leave the campus, they are supposed to excuse themselves,” DeBolt added. “We have a hard and fast rule about that.”
Herrera was scheduled to take a red-eye flight to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night for a campaign fundraising event Thursday. She said she would be gone less than 24 hours and would miss no committee or floor votes.
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.