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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Stuebe campaign raises candidate eligibility issues

The Columbian
Published: April 23, 2024, 6:03am

Like nearly every state, Washington has a “sore loser law,” to help organize the chaos that can engulf elections for political office. Other laws also work to define who is eligible or not eligible to run for various positions within state government.

But while nearly every conceivable scenario is covered by the labyrinth that is the Revised Code of Washington, the case of Washougal Mayor David Stuebe raises some interesting questions. Common sense holds that Stuebe — or any other politician — should not simultaneously hold two government positions.

Stuebe has announced that he is running for state representative, Position 2, from the 17th Legislative District. Paul Harris, longtime holder of the office, is running for the state Senate seat held by Lynda Wilson, who is retiring. (Stuebe, Harris and Wilson all are Republicans.)

That is the simple part; after that, it gets complicated.

For one thing, Stuebe said, “I have always finished what I started and intend to remain mayor of Washougal.” In Washougal, as in many other cities, the mayor is not directly elected; the position is filled by an elected member of the city council through a vote of other council members. Stuebe’s council term will expire in November 2025.

On one hand, it is reasonable to allow a legislator to remain in their jobs outside the Statehouse. Washington’s system is designed to promote “citizen legislators,” and lawmakers work as lawyers and business owners and social workers and a variety of other professions when they are not conducting the people’s business. Considering that, it is reasonable for a legislator to maintain their position as mayor, just as a barista who is elected to the Legislature.

On the other hand, serving as mayor — even when not directly elected to the position — while also serving in the Legislature can give the appearance of a conflict of interest. Lawmakers vote on policies and funding packages that directly impact city governments; a mayor could urge city councilors to vote a particular way on a particular local issue in exchange for a favorable vote on another issue in Olympia.

To be clear, we know of no reason to question Stuebe’s integrity. But his situation brings up interesting issues about candidate eligibility and the prospect of one person simultaneously holding two government positions.

Washington over the years has worked to remove complications in the electoral process. The state’s “sore loser law” prevents candidates who fail to advance out of a primary election from running a write-in campaign. In order for write-in votes to be counted, a candidate must register with state election officials, and primary losers are not allowed to register.

Other states prevent primary-election losers from running on the general ballot as an independent or a third-party candidate — a moot point under our state’s top-two primary system.

In addition, a candidate may not run for two offices in the same year, nor may they hold a federal office and also hold a state or local office. (As an aside, it is interesting that candidates for the Legislature or Congress need not reside in the district where they are seeking office; they only are required to be a registered voter in the state of Washington. An issue that disqualified a legislative candidate in 2022 surrounded his lying about his residence, not necessarily his residence.)

As candidates file for office early next month, there are bound to be discussions about qualifications. If Stuebe — or any other office holder –—desires to serve in the Legislature, they would be wise to assure voters that they will hold only one office at a time.