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Originally published October 26, 2012 at 8:54 PM | Page modified October 27, 2012 at 12:17 PM

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Democratic senator calls for investigation into 5th district

State Sen. Rodney Tom, a moderate Democrat from Medina, says that former Republican state Sen. Cheryl Pflug suggested to him she was planning to resign a week and a half before she actually did. She took a state job and left Republicans in a tough spot in the 5th Legislative District.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A prominent Democratic state senator, Rodney Tom, has waded into the political water-cooler talk of the summer, calling for an investigation into whether Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire conspired with former Republican state Sen. Cheryl Pflug to help Democrats take Pflug's old east King County seat.

Pflug resigned the seat just after the filing deadline to take a state government job, leaving Republicans with the inexperienced Brad Toft as their only candidate. Pflug then endorsed the Democrat in the race, Mark Mullet, viewed as the favorite in the district.

Republicans are particularly upset because the race could help decide control of the state Senate, and Pflug's move made it impossible for state Rep. Jay Rodne, who is believed to be a stronger GOP candidate, to make a run for the seat in the 5th Legislative District.

Pflug and Gregoire have insisted the timing was coincidental.

But Tom, a moderate Democrat from Medina, now says that Pflug suggested to him she was planning to resign a week and a half before she actually did.

According to Tom, Pflug told him at a May 10 legislative meeting that he was going to "enjoy working with Mark Mullet." Pflug's new job was announced on Monday, May 21. Filing ended the Friday before.

"That indicated to me that something was going on," Tom said. Pflug said she does not remember the conversation. But she said she didn't know she would get the job until a half-hour before it was announced.

"I mean, really, what was I supposed to do?" Pflug said. "I applied for the job. I was hoping I would get it. But I had no information one way or the other. Was I supposed to call up Jay Rodne on the day of the filing deadline and say, 'Hey, why don't you file to run against me just in case' "?

Republicans have been complaining about the timing of Pflug's resignation all summer. Party leaders say they got "Pfluged." Earlier this week, Republicans released 162 pages of emails obtained from the governor's office showing, in part, that Pflug was selected for the $92,500-a-year job on the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, even though she applied late and Gregoire's staff originally had concerns about her qualifications.

Cory Curtis, a Gregoire spokeswoman, said Pflug was given an extension, because she was in the middle of an intense legislative session, and the staff initially didn't understand the job requirements.

"Cheryl clearly materialized as the best candidate for the job," Curtis said.

In an extended soliloquy about the incident, Pflug called the allegations "conspiracy theories" from a party eager to bring her down because she often bucked leadership on major votes, including her support of gay marriage.

"Senate Republicans release some new set of baloney every two days. And the new baloney contradicts the last baloney," she said. "This is a good job. It's a great opportunity for me. But I worked really hard to get it. It wasn't a conspiracy. It wasn't a bribe."

Pflug and Curtis said they would be open to an investigation into the allegations after the election.

Tom, the Medina senator, said that after the election, he will push for a conversation in the Legislature about a possible investigation.

"There's a reason why so many people are distasteful about the current political process," he said, "and I don't think things like this help."

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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