JD Rossetti — a member of the Longview School Board and the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum United Way board — is Southwest Washington’s newest state legislator.
Twelve of 15 county commissioners from the region voted in Kelso on Thursday for Rossetti to replace Dean Takko, who minutes before had been appointed to the state Senate. Tiffany Turner of Seaview received two votes for the House seat, and Jim Sayce, also of Seaview, got one vote.
The commissioners chose a Democrat replacement for the 19th District Senate seat that opened last month, when former Sen. Brian Hatfield resigned to take a job with the governor’s office. The expected choice of Takko left his seat open until Rossetti was picked.
Rossetti, 34, touted his legislative experience during the campaign. He interned for Hatfield, and since 2012 has worked as an aide to Rep. Brian Blake, the other representative in the 19th District.
Critics have said the appointment process seems skewed towards decisions made in private by party regulars to reward an insider like Rossetti. He countered by saying he’s being recognized for all the work he’s done on state issues.
In choosing Rossetti, the commissioners of the five counties in the 19th District — Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Lewis, Pacific and Grays Harbor — ignored the tradition of picking the top choice of Democratic precinct officers who chose the three candidates. On Oct. 3, the precinct officers picked Turner as their top choice, followed by Rossetti.
After the vote Thursday, Rossetti said he wasn’t surprised at being chosen despite his second-place finish in the precinct officers’ vote. “I wasn’t sweating bullets at all,” he said.
In his presentation to the commissioners, Rossetti mentioned his experience on Longview’s school board negotiating with the teachers’ union and selecting interim and permanent superintendents.
In response to a question about charter schools, Rossetti said he’s for innovative schools as long as they’re under the control of the public school system.
He chided the Department of Fish and Wildlife for not paying attention to constituents’ views about elk hoof rot and called for more spending for hatcheries and state tourism promotion.
On most of the questions from commissioners, the three candidates largely agreed and used their replies as ways to mention their connections and experience.
Their views diverged on the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export facility in Longview, however.
Rossetti and Sayce said they’d welcome the terminal provided it got all the required permits. Turner, on the other hand, said she doesn’t have enough information to support the controversial project.
Cowlitz County Commissioners said they have been lobbied heavily in recent days by the candidates’ supporters. Commissioner Dennis Weber said most of the lobbying was in favor of Turner, though he voted for Rossetti, as did Cowlitz County Commissioner Mike Karnofski. Commissioner Joe Gardner cast the only vote for Sayce.
Two Pacific County commissioners — Steve Rogers and Frank Wolfe — voted for Turner.
After he was sworn in as legislator by Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Steven Warning, Rossetti said he hadn’t decided whether he would resign from the school board.
Takko was widely expected to be appointed to the vacant Senate seat. “I think I can bring a sense of moderation and common sense to the Senate,” he said. “I have kind of a passion for local government. I want to take that passion over to the Senate.”
Takko said he wants to keep Senate Democrats’ positions moderate. “We’ve got to come to the middle and find some answers to these problems,” he said, mentioning the Legislature’s challenges in funding schools as driven by statewide initiatives.
Takko was elected 13-2. Those two votes came from Cowlitz County: Weber and Gardner. Weber said he voted for Moon because Moon had replaced him on the Longview council when Weber became a county commissioner. Gardner said he was impressed by Moon’s presentation and he agreed with his point about keeping Takko and his experience in the House.