Two Republican state representatives want to impeach indicted State Auditor Troy Kelley for illegally (they allege) turning his office over to an unelected deputy while on a leave of absence. But the resolution from Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, which would create a committee to draw up articles of impeachment, is unlikely to go anywhere.
Both House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, would rather keep their caucuses focused on resolving the complicated and wide gap between the 2015-17 budget plans submitted by Republicans and Democrats. Despite the contention by MacEwen and Stokesbary that their House and Senate colleagues are capable of tackling impeachment and budget talks simultaneously, the party leaders see impeachment as an unwelcome distraction.
The drama began on April 15 when a federal grand jury indicted State Auditor Kelley on 10 counts of tax fraud, lying under oath and lying to the federal Internal Revenue Service. Kelley pleaded not guilty. On May 4, he took an indefinite leave of absence, which is supposed to last until his trial is complete. On Monday, his trial date was pushed back from June 8, 2015 to Jan. 19, 2016. In his absence, Kelley appointed Jan Jutte, director of operations at the auditor’s office, as interim state auditor.
Stokesbary and MacEwen argue that for Kelley to take a leave of absence and appoint an interim auditor to handle his duties violates the state constitution. They insist that there is no state law that allows Kelley to take the leave, while acknowledging the apparent absence of a state law to prevent him from doing so. "Our belief is that Mr. Kelley is guilty of malfeasance by abandoning his office," MacEwan said.
The two Republicans picked up at least one Democratic supporter in Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, who also called for Kelley's impeachment if he does not resign. “The delay of Troy Kelley’s trial until next January means that, even if he’s found not guilty of any crime and this is all a misunderstanding, the state will still have gone for most of a year without its auditor," said Habib in a press release. "And that’s assuming there won’t be additional delays in the judicial process. The watchdog role of auditor is too important, and waiting the rest of the year is too long, for us to have an interim replacement named by Mr. Kelley."
The last time the state House voted to impeach someone was in 1909 when it impeached Insurance Commissioner John Schively for extorting money from insurance companies. (The Senate later acquitted Schively.)
The earliest the House could act on the Stokesbary-MacEwen resolution is next week — that is, if it actually makes it to a floor vote. If passed, the impeachment resolution would set up a bipartisan, six-person committee which would draw up articles of impeachment in an effort to obtain a simple majority (50 votes out of 98) of the House. The Senate would then conduct a trial in which a two-thirds majority (33 out of 49 votes) would be required to remove Kelley from office.
Gov. Jay Inslee, all four legislative caucus leaders and all of Washington's statewide elected officials have called for Kelley to resign. Nevertheless, the State Auditor has hunkered down and said very little to anyone other than that he won't resign. Inslee has ordered that Kelley not be paid while he is on leave.
House Speaker Chopp issued his own press release after consulting with House Minority Leader Kristiansen. "All indications so far show that the Auditor’s office is being run competently by the Deputy Auditor," wrote Chopp. "Right now, we still have budgets that must be passed in this special legislative session. Impeachment proceedings at this point would be a major distraction from the more pressing and time-sensitive challenges facing the Legislature."
Last Friday, a Pierce County judge denied permission for a recall petition, dismissing the allegations as "legally and factually insufficient to support a recall election." That ruling is expected to be appealed to the Washington Supreme Court.
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