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State senator sworn in amidst controversy

The first day of the Washington Legislature included an intra-party drama on the floor of the state senate. It happened during opening ceremonies Monday when an incumbent Democratic Senator tried to block a new senator from being sworn in.

It was all bagpipes and ceremony until Senator Jim Kastama stood up. The Secretary of the Senate had finished reading the names of newly elected senators. Kastama, a Democrat, rose to protest the seating of a fellow Democrat, Nick Harper.

Kastama said Harper had won his seat thanks to an illegal third-party campaign by labor unions. Kastama noted the state Attorney General is investigating the case involving a Democratic political consulting firm called Moxie Media. The incumbent senator said his new colleague wasn’t to blame, but:

"He nor anyone else in this body can be the direct beneficiary of a fixed election. If we do it strikes at the heart of representative democracy."

Kastama's motion was defeated and Harper was sworn in. The Democratic leaders of the state senate argued that many political races this year were tainted by outside money. But they said that wasn’t enough reason to void election results. 

Several investigations continue into alleged campaign finance misconduct stemming from last fall’s election.

The Herald of Everett's Jerry Cornfield reports Harper was visibly relieved following their debate.

“It was an emotional moment. Very emotional,” Harper recalled later. Harper will now begin a four-year term as the senator serving residents of Everett, Marysville and Tulalip living in the 38th Legislative District.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.