12 of 15 commissioners favor aide to state Rep. Brian Blake
By NATALIE ST. JOHN
KELSO — The 15 commissioners from the 19th Legislative District have appointed former Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, to the Senate, and Longview legislative assistant J.D. Rossetti to Takko’s seat in the House.
Both Takko and Rossetti handily defeated their opponents during an Oct. 22 meeting in Kelso, which lasted more than three hours.
Commissioners first selected a replacement for former Sen. Brian Hatfield, who left the Senate to take a job in state government on Sept. 1. The two candidates, Takko, and Longview City Councilman Steve Moon gave brief speeches, then participated in a question and answer session.
Officially, Bette Snyder was also a candidate, but she never expressed any interest in the job, and did not attend the meeting.
During his speech, Moon said he liked and respected Takko, but felt that it was not in the district’s best interest to send Takko to the Senate, where he would lose some of the influence he had gained as a senior member of the House. In the House, Democrats are the majority party, but in the Senate, Republicans hold the majority.
The commissioners did not ask for time to deliberate, and needed only one round of votes to choose a winner. Takko defeated Moon, 13-2. Only two Cowlitz County commissioners voted to put Moon in the Senate.
After the vote, Takko officially resigned from his position in the House, and then Cowlitz County Judge Steven Warning swore him in as the 19th district’s new senator.
After a short recess, the commissioners repeated the same process to choose one of three candidates, Rossetti, Turner and Jim Sayce, to replace Takko.
During a lengthy question and answer period, Turner emphasized her life-long connection to the region, willingness to learn and compromise, and ability to bring a fresh, new perspective that she said was “missing, and needed” in the Legislature.
Rossetti stressed his knowledge of the district and its issues, and his strong connections in Olympia, repeatedly mentioning the names of legislators, business leaders and activists he has worked with as a legislative assistant for Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen.
Sayce emphasized development and natural resource issues, and his experience in working on ambitious planning, cultural and economic development projects. Though the candidate’s views were largely similar on most issues, Rossetti, who came prepared with pages of detailed notes, was able to offer more precise answers than either of his opponents. Rossetti and Sayce both said they would support opening a proposed coal terminal in Longview — a key issue for Cowlitz County leaders — provided that the project met all permit requirements, while Turner said she needed to learn more about the project before forming an opinion.
After returning from a short, private discussion, the commissioners again made a swift decision.
In the first round of voting in Naselle on Oct. 3, precinct committee officers showed a strong preference for Turner, who defeated Rossetti with an 11-vote lead. In a phone interview last week, Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber said that Turner had by far the most robust campaign, and acknowledged that he had received many more calls from Turner supporters than from Rossetti or Sayce supporters. At the meeting, at least half of the large audience was made up of Turner supporters, wearing blue to show their unified support.
But in the end, neither the PCO recommendation nor the popular support for Turner carried much weight with the commissioners. Rossetti handily won taking 12 of 15 votes, to Turner’s two votes, and Sayce’s single vote.
Pacific County commissioners Frank Wolfe and Steve Rogers both voted for Turner, while Lisa Ayers voted for Rossetti.
Ayers said the decision to vote for Rossetti had been extremely difficult, but she felt that he was more qualified for the job than the two Pacific County candidates. Ayers said she has worked with Rossetti on a variety of issues for about five years, and had found him to be motivated, well-connected and helpful. She acknowledged that Pacific County residents are likely to criticize her for the decision, but said she felt she was obligated to choose the best-qualified candidate, regardless of regional allegiances.
After the meeting, Rossetti stood at the front of the room, exchanging hugs and handshakes with supporters, already talking with some of his constituents about issues he hoped to address in Olympia.
Asked if he was surprised to win such a solid victory after losing the PCO vote, Rossetti said, “Absolutely not. I wasn’t sweating bullets at all.”