About Ralph Schwartz

After 13 years in mainstream journalism, Ralph Schwartz left The Bellingham Herald in November 2015. He's now a freelance editor and writer looking for a regular paycheck.

By: Ralph Schwartz (40)

Anacortes Council member Lovelett to replace Ranker in state Senate

By On

Anacortes City Council member Liz Lovelett was sworn in late Tuesday, Feb. 5, as Washington state’s newest senator, to represent the 40th Legislative District.

Members of the San Juan and Whatcom County councils, and the Skagit County Commission, voted to appoint Lovelett at a joint meeting in Mount Vernon. Lovelett replaces Kevin Ranker, who resigned on the eve of the current session.

Lovelett had the support of all three members of the San Juan County Council and two of the three Skagit County commissioners. This was enough to win her the seat, as each of the three counties was given equal voting strength.

That meant that votes by Whatcom Council members were worth three-sevenths of a vote, to one each for members of the other two county bodies. The only Whatcom Council member to vote for Lovelett was Tyler Byrd. All others voted “no” for Lovelett, except for Rud Browne and Barbara Brenner, who abstained.

Browne said before the vote that the whole process of nominating the three candidates—Lovelett, former 40th District Rep. Kristine Lytton, and labor leader Trevor Smith—was “fundamentally undemocratic.”

Democratic Party precinct committee officers from the 40th District nominated Lytton, Lovelett and Smith, in that order, for consideration Tuesday by the three county councils.

Browne, who chairs the Whatcom County Council, had wanted to be considered for Ranker’s seat, but Democrats disqualified him because he is a current member of the Whatcom County Council and would be in a position to make the appointment. Browne on Jan. 25 had sent 40th District PCOs a legal opinion commissioned by the Washington State Association of Counties, which stated that acting county commissioners are eligible but must recuse themselves from the vote on the appointment. This argument did not win over the party leadership. The PCOs nominated the three finalists without the chance to consider either Browne or Jamie Stephens, a San Juan County Council member who also was interested in the seat.

“I have no complaint about the character of the nominees that stand before us,” Browne said at the joint meeting, ”but the justification for preventing consideration of all 13 members (of the three county councils) won’t be found in the rule book of a free and fair democratic society.” Browne cited the constitutional right of every citizen to both vote and serve in public office.

Even though Lytton received the most votes from PCOs, Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt moved to consider Lovelett first. Because she received a majority of votes, neither Lytton nor Smith were considered by the 13 county leaders.

Lovelett, who was serving her sixth year on the Anacortes City Council, was primary author of an affordable housing strategic plan for the city and cited that work as her proudest achievement while in office. She also supported a new rule passed in Anacortes that prevents the long-term lease or sale of Anacortes water rights to outside corporations.

Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt liked Lovelett because she spoke forcefully about how the state Legislature saddles city and county governments with “unfunded mandates” that put a financial burden on municipalities.

“The big hole we have in the Legislature is people who understand local government and the challenges they face,” Dahlstedt said.

Lovelett will report to Olympia immediately and take the seat Ranker had held since 2009.

“There’s going to be a little bit of catch-up going into the session, but I’m a fast learner and trial by fire is one of my specialties,” Lovelett said.

​Ranker resigned Friday, Jan. 12, after he was accused by a staffer of touching her inappropriately and making unwanted sexual advances during the 2010 session. (As any reporter or media-savvy politician will tell you, late Friday is the ideal time to drop bad news.) An independent investigation, concluded last week, determined that Ranker harassed a member of his staff, Ann Larson, and created a hostile environment for her in her next job.

Democrats have been strangely quiet on the matter of Ranker’s misconduct toward a woman who worked for him, even after he admitted to violating the Senate’s anti-harassment policy. As of Tuesday morning, no official statements had appeared from the Washington State Democratic Party, the 40th District Democrats or the Whatcom Democrats. Then again, maybe there’s nothing to say. Ranker was admired by local liberals, especially for his work on the environment. And he had already resigned, so maybe best not to beat a dead horse.

In a statement posted to his Facebook page on Feb. 1, Ranker managed to sound both contrite and defiant. He said he resigned not because his role as state senator had been compromised by his actions; rather, the media was to blame for airing Larson’s grievances in public, before the investigation had concluded. Ranker said he hoped “this first test of our procedures can help inform and improve how the Senate moves forward in the future.” He also took credit for new Senate policies intended to better protect people facing harassment.

“I ... was one of the Senate leaders who pushed for the updated policies used in this investigation so that anyone, regardless of the accuser or the accused, can come forward safely to report mistreatment. What we did not anticipate in our efforts to create a fair, transparent process is the toll on all parties when a parallel, public process plays out in the media concurrent to investigation.”

Ranker explained away Larson’s accusations of sexual advances, saying he was only being “flirtatious.” But he also recognized that his actions were nonetheless inappropriate, given their past sexual relationship. He also suggested that on the spectrum of #MeToo transgressions, his was on the milder side.

“Did I treat her in a way that was different than others as a result of our previous relationship? Likely yes. But that does not make my actions acceptable. While in the position of power as a boss, one must consider the formality of the workplace; all employees should feel supported and successful in their job,” Ranker said in his statement. “We must recognize that looking the other way for lesser actions creates a society that can be pathetically accepting of the worst offenders. Otherwise, there will be no real progress.”

Larson’s statement that Ranker yelled at and belittled her may have been softened by the statements of witnesses, who said that Ranker talked to a lot of people that way. From the report: “Many witnesses stated that (Ranker) engaged in that type of conduct many times with respect to many people when he was displeased with their positions on issues he was passionate about. Witnesses provided numerous examples of (Ranker) expressing negative opinions in unprofessionally harsh terms, and with aggressive vocal tones and body language.”

“It does not matter that I am passionate about the issues I work on,” Ranker said in his statement. “What matters is that I recognize the impacts of my actions.”

When news of Larson’s accusations broke, Ranker had said he believed he would be exonerated of the allegations.

Larson was motivated to tell people in Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration in October that she was going to go to the media with her harassment claims against Ranker after watching the way the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee handled accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

About Ralph Schwartz

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since May 23, 2014

After 13 years in mainstream journalism, Ralph Schwartz left The Bellingham Herald in November 2015. He's now a freelance editor and writer looking for a regular paycheck.

John Servais

Feb 06, 2019

So Rud Browne abstained from voting because he was outraged at not being chosen to be a candidate.  My, such pouting.  Because Ranker was a Democrat, the Ds are empowered by state law to select the final three candidates.  And the Ds did not want Browne.  Simple as that.  But no, he could not let such a slight of himself be forgotten.  He inappropriately used his privilege on the 13 member group to complain and then he refused to participate.  This does not reflect well on Mr. Browne as our elected representative to our county council.

Read More...

Michael Riordan

Feb 12, 2019

There’s a lot more to this story, Ralph. You’ve just scratched the surface.

The County Coucilors snubbing of the PCOs, 63 percent of whom voted for Lytton, is causing a lot of consternation among Democratic Party officials over here in the islands. ALL THREE of our Council members voted for Lovelett, against the strong recommendation of these officials. A coincidence? Sounds to me like they had scores to settle with Kris. Like on the decreased state support for our school districts, which was mentioned by Lopez Council member Jamie Stephens in his comments before the vote.

Also before the vote, Todd Donovan of the 2nd Whatcom County District, said “I look forward to having the opportunity of having  somebody with leadership experience in the House stepping forward and potentially serving in the Senate.” Somebody like Kris, that is, who chaired the House Finance Committe and is familiar with the budgeting process. Somebody who could actually INFLUENCE legislation and budgets, rather than just vote on them.

As Ralph notes, the only Whatcom County Council member to vote for Lovelett was Tyler Bird, a Republican whose Third District lies almost entirely in the 42nd Legislative District, not the 40th. Donovan and three others voted  “No” while Brenner and Browne abstained. Another vote in her favor came from Skagit County Council member Ron Wesen,  also a Republican.

The GOP is probably laughing all the way to Olympia.

Read More...
To comment, Log In or Register

Anacortes Council member Lovelett to replace Ranker in state Senate

By Ralph SchwartzOn Feb 05, 2019

Anacortes City Council member Liz Lovelett was sworn in late Tuesday, Feb. 5, as Washington state’s newest senator, to represent the 40th Legislative District. Members of the San Juan and [...]

2 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Two dozen want Murphy’s Bellingham council seat

By Ralph SchwartzOn Sep 26, 2018

Democracy is not a spectator sport. Jean Layton told me this last year when I asked her why she chose to challenge Roxanne Murphy, who was seeking reelection to the [...]

18 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Tough choice for Democrats: Who will challenge Ericksen?

By Ralph SchwartzOn May 01, 2018

Democrats think they can do it. If only they can motivate voters to turn in their ballots in numbers comparable to a presidential election year, then Democrats say they can [...]

7 comments, most recent 2 years ago

Ericksen a tough out for Democrats in 2018

By Ralph SchwartzOn Apr 17, 2018

UPDATE: The campaign treasurer for Tim Ballew II, who is running as a Democrat against Doug Ericksen for his state Senate seat in the 42nd Legislative District, turned in two [...]

2 comments, most recent 2 years ago

One year in, Trump’s biggest Wash. donor has no buyer’s remorse

By Ralph SchwartzOn Jan 21, 2018

I was reminded recently of Peter Gigante, the Fairhaven resident who has the distinction of being Washington state’s single largest donor to the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign. I interviewed [...]

2 comments, most recent 2 years ago

Count ‘em: 29 people seek vacancy on Whatcom County Council

By Ralph SchwartzOn Dec 20, 2017

I feel I need to walk back the statement in my last article about the importance of participating in democracy by stepping up to take public office. The Whatcom County [...]

1 comment, most recent 2 years ago

Crowded field: 11 seek Whatcom council vacancy days before deadline

By Ralph SchwartzOn Dec 16, 2017

One necessary condition for a healthy democracy is citizens’ willingness to participate—not just by casting votes but by stepping up to represent their peers by taking government offices. I [...]

4 comments, most recent 2 years ago

District-only dead? Whatcom council to weigh return to countywide vote

By Ralph SchwartzOn Nov 20, 2017

Update by publisher: Wed, Nov 22. At last night’s county council meeting, the two proposed ordinances were not brought forward. They were not voted on. Apparently they were discussed in [...]

2 comments, most recent 2 years ago

Election recap: Conservatives start to make inroads on Whatcom Council

By Ralph SchwartzOn Nov 13, 2017

​No matter how you slice it, district-only voting is a good thing if you’re a conservative in Whatcom County. Right-wing politicos on the 2015 county Charter Review Commission managed to [...]

Conservative Whatcom candidates distance themselves from GOP

By Ralph SchwartzOn Aug 21, 2017

​Four conservative candidates for elected office in Whatcom County have gotten together to chart a third way through local politics—one that doesn’t involve Republicans or Democrats. The four—[...]

1 comment, most recent 2 years ago

If Donovan defeats Glasser in county race, can she take his old seat?

By Ralph SchwartzOn Aug 11, 2017

Whatcom County government is in the midst of what can be a confusing transition, as the seven seats for County Council leave behind the old three-district system and begin to [...]

5 comments, most recent 2 years ago

‘Upstream’ book review: any hope for salmon?

By Ralph SchwartzOn Jul 20, 2017

​If you’re reading this article, chances are “Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table” by Langdon Cook (Ballantine, $27) won’t teach you too much you don’t [...]

1 comment, most recent 2 years ago

Primary: I’m voting Jean Layton for city council—and you should, too

By Ralph SchwartzOn Jul 09, 2017

​Before Democrats in the Whatcom establishment raise an objection, let me say up front this is not an endorsement for the general election. This is not an endorsement of any [...]

4 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Democrat infighting emerges in Bellingham’s at-large race

By Ralph SchwartzOn May 14, 2017

​Democrats are in a major fight in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. Sure, they are throwing everything they can at the new White House, [...]

2 comments, most recent 3 years ago

100 days: Largest Wash. Trump donor, from Fairhaven, likes what he sees

By Ralph SchwartzOn May 03, 2017

​Not one to shy away from a media cliche, I followed up with Peter Gigante on the occasion of Donald Trump’s 100th day in the White House. OK, so [...]

11 comments, most recent 2 years ago

What did Ericksen know? Trump protesters facing trial seek subpoena

By Ralph SchwartzOn Apr 04, 2017

The “Whatcom Three,” who last May blocked Guide Meridian Road in Lynden on the day President Donald Trump made a campaign appearance there, want to know whether Republican state Senator [...]

1 comment, most recent 3 years ago

Women speak in Bellingham on International Women’s Day

By Ralph SchwartzOn Mar 08, 2017

​About 70 people gathered in front of Bellingham City Hall on Wednesday, March 8, to rally for women’s rights under the shadow of the Trump administration. “I’m pissed that it’[...]

Ericksen faces his detractors at town hall

By Ralph SchwartzOn Mar 04, 2017

I don’t know what state Sen. Doug Ericksen, the Ferndale Republican who represents north Whatcom County in Olympia, thought he would accomplish by hosting an unfettered discussion dominated by [...]

5 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Trump: Savior of liberal American values?

By Ralph SchwartzOn Jan 18, 2017

On Friday, Donald Trump will be our president. The fact that he’s a misogynist is not up for debate. His racism is well documented. His election was an affront [...]

3 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Swift Creek, loaded with asbestos and heavy metals, is getting out of control

By Ralph SchwartzOn Dec 05, 2016

The side of Sumas Mountain, laden with asbestos and soil-killing heavy metals, is sliding slowly but steadily into Swift Creek and then into the farmlands of north Whatcom County and—[...]