State Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, will continue doing legislative work up until the day he is sworn in as a Benton County commissioner in early January.
With the next legislative session starting Jan. 14, that could leave the district with no representation in the state Senate for up to 60 days of the 105-day session while local officials evaluate potential replacements and appoint a new senator.
Preliminary results showed Delvin leading Richland School Board President Rick Jansons, also a Republican, in the race to replace outgoing Commissioner Leo Bowman for the District 1 position.
As of Wednesday, Delvin had 33,152 votes, or 64 percent, to Jansons' 18,617 votes, or 36 percent. About 15,000 ballots are left to be counted, according to the Benton County Auditor's Office.
Delvin has served 18 years in the Legislature, and has two years remaining on his current four-year term.
He told the Herald that he plans to resign from the Senate to serve on the Benton County Commission, but not until he participates in legislative committee meetings in December and introduces a few bills of interest to the 8th Legislative District.
In particular, Delvin wants to spend his final weeks as a state senator working to get funding for a new building for Delta High School, the Tri-Cities' science and math-focused high school.
He said he may introduce some other pieces of legislation when preliminary bill filing begins in December, but "that depends on the majority." Delvin and his fellow Republicans are in the minority in the state Senate, but hoping in this year's election to pick up the three seats necessary to give them a 25-seat majority in the 49-member body.
The Seattle Times, based on available results Tuesday, predicted that Democrats would hold the majority, but that the gap would narrow by one seat to a 26-23 division.
That balance won't change when Delvin leaves, since state law allows his party to choose the nominees for his replacement.
The process for filling a legislative vacancy is spelled out in the state constitution. The local party committee -- in this case the Benton County GOP -- takes applications from potential candidates, and the party precinct officers in the legislative district narrow the field to three names.
County commissioners in the legislative district then appoint one of those three people as the replacement. The person appointed then has to run for the office in the next election. In this case, that would be in 2013.
The 8th District includes Richland, West Richland and most of Kennewick, and is completely contained within Benton County.
Because Delvin won't resign until he is sworn in as a commissioner, that means he will be one of three people to vote for his replacement.
The party and commissioners have 60 days after his resignation to name a successor, or else the governor gets to appoint someone -- still from Delvin's party, according to the state constitution.
The last time Mid-Columbia legislative seats were vacant and required appointments were in 2009, when 9th District Rep. Steve Hailey, R-Mesa, and 16th District Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, died within about a week of each other just before the 2009 legislative session.
Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax, was appointed in late January 2009 to replace Hailey, less than one month after Hailey's December 2008 death from colon cancer.
Grant's daughter, Laura Grant, was appointed to his seat in late February 2009, about six weeks after her father's death from a rare form of lung cancer.
In the 8th District, Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, the more senior of the district's two state representatives, told the Herald when Delvin announced his run for commissioner that Haler would consider applying to replace Delvin in the Senate.
But after appearing to win by a landslide his own re-election to his seat in the state House on Tuesday, Haler was noncommittal about throwing his hat in for Delvin's seat.
He told the Herald on Tuesday that he is focusing for now on the job 8th District voters elected him to do.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org