He may have been the No. 2 party choice, but he was No. 1 with county commissioners.
Jeff Baxter, a local businessman and former write-in candidate for the West Valley school board, was unanimously chosen by Spokane County commissioners to take the interim position last Friday after being interviewed along with two other hopefuls. Baxter reported to Olympia immediately this week to fill the vacancy created when longtime Sen. Bob McCaslin resigned for health reasons.
“I’m as happy as I can be,” Baxter said to well-wishers after the vote was taken shortly before 5 p.m. after the day-long interview session.
Baxter was chosen over Roy Murry, an Army veteran, and Matt Shea, who has represented the 4th District as a legislator since 2008.
On Monday, Baxter took the oath of office at the state Capitol. He was assigned to serve on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which deals with tax and spending legislation. He also will be on the Human Services as well as the Corrections and Judiciary committees.
While Shea was the No. 1 choice by local Republican precinct officers to take over for McCaslin in the Senate, the commissioners said Friday they would be doing the 4th District more harm than good during the crucial current legislative session if they appointed him.
“One of the things I’ve heard consistently was the need for representation of the 4th District during this critical time in the Legislature,” board Chairman Al French said. “I took that to heart.”
The other commissioners agreed that appointing Shea would create another vacancy that would need to be filled as soon as possible – and that likely wouldn’t happen until the final week of the 2011 Legislature, which is current nearing the halfway point of the 105-day session. Also, they noted, Shea would give up his leadership in the state House of Representative to become the junior-most senator.
“We don’t want to create any additional strife during this legislative session,” said Commissioner Mark Richard, who added that Shea will likely “run for the Senate in the fall.”
Baxter was lauded by the commissioners for his small business background as owner of Baxter Group Inc., which sets up credit card systems for other small businesses.
“He knows the challenges small businesses face,” Commissioner Todd Mielke said. “I’m impressed Mr. Baxter has that unique experience in a slate of three.”
“Small businesses are the engine of our economy,” Baxter said Monday. “My goal in the Senate is to help get our state government back on track, which means restoring fiscal sanity to our budgeting process while removing unnecessary burdens from employers so they can create jobs and help get Washingtonians back to work.”
Mielke also added that Baxter is the only parent of the group – he has two sons that have gone through the West Valley school system – and thus has some familiarity with the state’s education needs.
“I like that he has that experience,” Mielke said.
Baxter will hold the Senate seat until after the Nov. 8 election, when voters will decide on who will serve for the remainder of McCaslin’s term, which expires at the end of 2012.
State law required that the commissioners fill the vacancy with one of three candidates provided by the Spokane County Republican Party. If they did not, the decision would have been made by Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat.
Shea, who was interviewed by the commissioners over the telephone, said he would run an “aggressive campaign” if he was chosen. He was the only one not physically present for the interview process.
None of the candidates took an oath to be truthful, as suggested by French earlier in the week before the interviews. Shea said that such an oath would “violate the oath of office” as a legislator.
Shea has invited 4th District constituents to take part in a telephone town hall next Wednesday to give citizens an opportunity to learn more about the 2011 legislative session, ask questions and participate in surveys.
To connect to the teleconference, call toll-free at 1-877-229-8493 and enter PIN 15550 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 23.