As Ron Sims moves on, the logs begin to roll

After three terms as King County Executive, a lot of political pressure has built up behind the log jam. Larry Phillips has the pole position.
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Former King County Executive Ron Sims.

After three terms as King County Executive, a lot of political pressure has built up behind the log jam. Larry Phillips has the pole position.

It's no secret that King County Executive Ron Sims, despite his well-documented love for Seattle, has dreamed of getting out of here for some time. And now he has his chance, despite his early support for the wrong horse in the presidential race, to become a deputy secretary in the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The political repercussions are immediate and extensive. A County Executive race that was already looking competitive is now wide open — and a potential circus for the King County Council. Though Councilmember Larry Phillips is the only one who's declared his interest for fellow Democrat Sims' post, he isn't the only member who wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror, and thinks to him or herself: I could do that. I could be executive.

Councilmember Bob Ferguson has made no secret of his ambitions for higher office, more likely state Attorney General, but he's been reluctant to tangle with Sims. With Sims out of the picture after serving 12 years, Ferguson may make his move. Similarly, Dow Constantine, while ever cagey about his future intentions, could also take a real run at the post. As newly elected council chair this year, he's already shown signs of enjoying the limelight. Also mentioned is Julia Patterson from South King County.

Phillips' timing was good, jumping into the race last week before Sims' departure was official, but after most in the know knew that it was a done deal. That gives him an enviable air of inevitability, even if he's not the "caretaker" for the seat that Sims suggested. (The county executive said today that he'd like for the interim exec to be a person of "unquestioned experience, stature, and integrity who has no intention of running in the November 2009 election.")

Susan Sheary, chair of the King County Democrats, says she'd rather see the appointment go to the "person or persons who have already declared their candidacy." However, thanks to the charter amendment last year that made countywide offices nonpartisan, the county parties have less say in the process than in years past. Before, Precinct Committee Officers would choose a slate of three potential nominees for the county council to pick from &mdash a system that rewards candidates with strong grass-roots support. This year the decision is up to the council alone, with all nine members of the council, including Republicans, voting to select the new executive. Council members will still welcome input from the party leaders, Sheary says. She adds that she plans to gather her executive board and legislative district chairs in the coming days to pool their ideas.

Sheary says that while the caretaker notion is gaining steam, nominating the person the party plans to back for the long haul would make it much easier come November. "We like Larry very much," she adds. "We've always been supportive of him." Sims' idea of a caretaker may indicate his estrangement from Phillips, who has long been an ally of Sims but has been taking lots of pot shots at him in gearing up for his challenge.

Republicans, a minority on the "non-partisan" county council, may try to hold their votes together in a bloc, to maximize leverage. There are no strong GOP candidates on the horizon who could get elected in the countywide race, particularly now that King County is so Democratic. Further, with the top-two primary system now in place, it is possible that two Democrats would face off for the general election.

Caretaker route or not, the dealing will soon begin. Council members not running for executive will soon find themselves beleaguered by promises from those angling for votes. While Sims readies for his Senate confirmation, they'll be plenty of log-rolling and favor-trading going on to replace him back at home.


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