State Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, resigned from the Senate to take a job in the Trump administration. Dansel is the second GOP state senator to take a federal position under the new president.
OLYMPIA — President Trump’s administration has twice come knocking in recent days, with two Republican state senators taking federal jobs.
The promotions, however, are illuminating the GOP’s tenuous control of the state Senate.
With the resignation Tuesday of Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, the Senate is tied 24-24 — at least until Dansel’s replacement is appointed.
Dansel’s resignation followed news Monday that Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, was taking a temporary job at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the Trump transition team. Ericksen has said he’ll continue his legislative duties — but the committee he chairs canceled its Wednesday meeting.
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Dansel, 33, will become a special assistant to the U.S. secretary of agriculture in Washington, D.C.
A graduate of Republic High School, in Northeast Washington, Dansel earned an associate degree from Walla Walla Community College, his legislative biography says. A former professional golfer and Ferry County commissioner, he won his Senate seat in a 2013 special election and was re-elected in 2014.
For this legislative session, which began Jan. 9, Dansel has been chair of the Senate’s Local Government Committee — but has been absent from its meetings. Dansel will begin his federal position immediately.
“It has been the honor of my life to serve as your senator, and this decision was not an easy one for me,” Dansel said in a news release from the Senate Republicans. “Words cannot express the gratitude my family and I feel toward the citizens of this district, and I didn’t take the decision lightly.”
Democratic legislative leaders Tuesday speculated that another Republican senator, Michael Baumgartner of Spokane, also might leave for a federal job.
“It looks like Sen. Baumgartner and Sen. Dansel might also be taking jobs with the administration,” said Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, in a regularly scheduled news conference before Dansel’s resignation was confirmed. “So it will be up to the majority to figure out … how they intend to have their committees keep operating.”
Baumgartner, known in Olympia for his prolific use of Twitter, recently deleted all his tweets and rewrote his Twitter bio to highlight his international and national security résumé.
His career has included stints as a counternarcotics adviser in Afghanistan for the State Department, as vice president of a private consortium trying to start up a telecom network in Saudi Arabia, and as an economics officer at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
But Baumgartner said Tuesday afternoon he hasn’t interviewed for a job in the Trump administration.
Reached as he headed into a Transportation Committee meeting, he described the changes to his Twitter page simply as “maintenance.”
The resignation by Dansel — who didn’t respond to requests for comment — leaves the Senate tied between Democrats and the Republican coalition that controls the chamber, until a replacement is named.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said he expected a replacement to be appointed quickly and that the local and county officials “would act promptly” on that.
Senate Republicans and state Republican Party officials hope to have the appointment made by Feb. 6.
According to the Senate Republican caucus, GOP precinct-committee officers in Dansel’s 7th District will pick three candidates to fill his term. Those names will be sent to commissioners from Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane counties, who will appoint the temporary replacement.
The appointee will serve until November, when voters will choose someone to complete Dansel’s Senate term.
Nelson, meanwhile, suggested the Senate was officially tied.
“There is no majority party in the Senate right now,” Nelson said in a written statement. “At this point in time, Republican leadership can work across the aisle to solve our education funding crisis, or they can continue to use the waiting game as a way to keep the Senate in a state of gridlock.”
As for Ericksen, he said he’s allowed to work for the Trump administration while remaining in the Senate.
While the state constitution bars state legislators from simultaneously holding certain federal jobs, legal experts say the provision does not apply to Ericksen’s temporary role as communications director for the Trump’s transition team at the EPA.
A 1930s state Supreme Court decision cleared a state senator who had gone to work for the Works Progress Administration for a year, finding the state constitutional ban applied only to certain, high-level federal jobs with decision-making authority.
“That’s not the case here,” said Hugh Spitzer, a law professor at the University of Washington and expert on the state constitution.
Apart from legal issues, Ericksen — who chairs the Senate Energy, Environment, and Telecommunications Committee — could also face ethical questions about what duty he owes to constituents in his Whatcom County legislative district.
“There is the assumption he will actually be able to show up. They (legislators) are in session,” said J. Patrick Dobel, a professor of public service at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, and an expert on government ethics.
Ericksen has said he’s confident he can perform his legislative duties while working for the EPA transition effort — and that both jobs would benefit voters in his district.
Former state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, also has taken a temporary job with the Trump administration, being named senior White House adviser supervising the EPA transition team.