Manweller faces critics

Rep. Matt Manweller reacts during a public meeting of the 13th District State legislators at the Kittitas County Courthouse, Thursday. He responded to recent allegations of inappropriate conduct against him.

Rep. Matt Manweller will not serve another term in the state House, he said Monday.

Manweller, R-Cle Elum, was asked to resign on Friday by party leaders in response to allegations he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old former high school student in 1997. He has denied the account.

The House Republican caucus met Monday morning. Manweller said in a message Monday afternoon he won’t serve another term if re-elected.

“At this point we are only three weeks away from ballots going to the voters,” he said in a text message. “My name will appear on those ballots regardless of what I decide to do with respect to my campaign and service to the district. I also believe it is important that the 68 percent of voters who identify as Republicans have someone to vote for.”

If he is re-elected, he said he plans to resign before the session begins or “whatever the law requires.” However, he said it’s important he is re-elected so the seat can be filled with another Republican upon his resignation.

Manweller won 63 percent of the vote in the August primary.

His opponent, Sylvia Hammond, a Democrat from Ephrata, said the move circumvents the democratic process.

“People deserve to know who they’re voting for,” she said. “With the direction (Manweller’s) going, people have no idea who they’re voting for.”

She said while campaigning, the majority of people she talks to are voters in the middle of the spectrum who look more at the candidate than just voting down the party ticket.

“People want to decide if the candidate is someone they’re comfortable with or feel like they can trust or talk to. All of those things are critical,” she said. “If all we did is vote for party, why would we have any candidates?”

Kittitas County Republican Party Chairman Marlene Pfeifer said it’s the party’s legal right to replace Manweller with another Republican should he be re-elected and then resign.

The party already has “several qualified candidates,” including a former state legislator. Pfeifer wouldn’t mention any specific names.

“That’s the law that gives us the authority to do that,” she said. “And most people voting for Matt are voting for a Republican.”

Central Washington University fired the political science professor last month after an investigation into his conduct with female students. Manweller has vehemently denied the allegations and is suing for wrongful termination.

Officials with the Washington Secretary of State office have said that if Manweller wins the election but decides not to hold the seat, the district’s Republican precinct committee officers would gather to choose three nominees for the seat and local county commissioners in the district would decide who the new lawmaker would be

House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, who called for Manweller to resign last week, said in an interview Monday with the Seattle Times that he didn’t have a deadline in mind on when Manweller should step down and was pleased with the plans.

“I’m happy that he’s deciding to find a way to say goodbye,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox said he knows Manweller to be a devoted father and that he’s been an effective legislator for his district. He said a recent conversation with Manweller was private and painful and somber, as Manweller is figuring out how he can best take care of his family.

“I absolutely wish him the best in that,” Wilcox said. Wilcox said he didn’t have any immediate candidates in mind to replace Manweller.

Manweller said he plans to spend his time out of the Legislature focusing on creating a “safe and healthy environment for my family, in particular, my wife and two children.”

“The last year has been incredibly difficult for my family,” he said. “Politics can be a very nasty endeavor, which we have come to learn that first hand.”

Manweller represents the 13th District, including Grant, Lincoln, Kittitas and part of Yakima counties. Manweller has been in the Legislature since 2012 and rose to be the assistant floor leader in the House until GOP leaders asked him to step down from the leadership position in December.

 

The Seattle Times contributed to this report.