By JESSE BURKHARDT
And then there were eight.
As of March 2, a total of eight candidates have announced interest in running for the vacancy created when State Rep. Dan Newhouse left the Legislature on Feb. 18 to become director of the Washington Department of Agriculture.
With a March 6 deadline to declare interest in the position, there could still be more vying for the seat.
The 15th Legislative District covers parts of four southwest Washington counties -- All of Klickitat and Skamania counties, a wide section of Yakima County, and a tiny slice of Clark County.
The current list includes candidates from all over the district, including one from White Salmon:
Jake Anderson, a White Salmon farmer;
Don Padelford, a farmer from Sunnyside;
Don Vlieger, a former member of the Sunnyside City Council;
Mike Garvison, who currently serves as Skamania County's elected Auditor. He lives in Bonneville;
Jeff Andrews, an attorney who lives in rural northwest Klickitat County;
Jeff Matson, a Port Commissioner who lives in Sunnyside;
Mike Wallace, a winery owner who lives in Grandview;
David Taylor, a rancher in Moxee.
The process works like this: Since Newhouse is a Republican, the Republican Party's precinct committee officers from the 15th District will select three finalists from the group of Republican candidates who apply for the legislative seat. Those three names will be forwarded to the county commissioners from the four counties within the district.
According to Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston, the 15th District's 12 county commissioners will choose a new state representative from among the three finalists.
"The Republican PCOs in Clark, Skamania, Klickitat, and Yakima counties will screen the various applicants and pick three from the group," Johnston explained. "These three will be submitted to the county commissioners from the above-mentioned counties. We will then pick the one we feel is best qualified for Dan's job. There will be three commissioners from four counties. That means there will be 12 votes altogether. All of the commissioners get to vote, not just the Republicans. The PCOs are Republicans and the position will go to a Republican, but all of the commissioners vote. It will take a majority of seven to pick a replacement."
Anderson, who has been active in promoting farmland preservation zones in the county, said he welcomes the chance to serve as a state representative.
"We can't afford to lose another voice for agriculture in the Legislature," Anderson said.
Anderson added that a number of citizens encouraged him to run for the seat.
"After I'd run for County Commissioner [to fill a vacancy created when Don Struck left the position] and been involved on a state level with farmland preservation, they asked me to put my name in," he explained.
Anderson said the 15th District is rich in natural resources, and he wants to ensure it remains that way.
"The amount of wealth we produce is truly inspiring. We produce food for your table, wine for your glass, lumber for your homes and businesses, as well as electricity to keep the lights on," Anderson said. "I pledge to support and protect this agricultural and industrial base which allows our cities and service sector to grow and flourish."
Garvison might have an edge in the replacement sweepstakes, however: He is the only one from the list who has successfully faced an entire county's voters. Garvison was first elected to be Skamania County Auditor in 2002, then re-elected in 2006 with about 53 percent of the vote.
"With the state Legislature facing a potential $8.6 billion deficit, now is the time for a legislator who has the fiscal management skills necessary to make the difficult decisions we currently face," Garvison explained in a statement accompanying his letter seeking the appointment. "We need someone who has been responsible for administering multi-million budgets and has been faced with very difficult financial decisions. I am certain my seven years as Skamania County Auditor have provided me with the tools and skill set necessary to follow in Dan's footsteps and be an effective voice for the citizens of the entire 15th Legislative District."
Despite the many candidates seeking the position, Anderson said he liked his chances.
"I have just as good a chance as the next guy," he said.
Whoever gets the nod, the celebration of the appointment will be relatively short-lived: To allow the voters to have their say on who they want in the legislative seat, a special election for the seat will be held this fall. The filing period for the office will be during the first week of June, with the primary election coming on Aug. 18.
The general election will be on Nov. 3.