This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Few Pierce County lawmakers have grown as much in office as state Sen. Mike Carrell of Lakewood.
His death Wednesday deprived his 28th Legislative District of a distinguished legislator — and also deprived the Republican Party of a vote it needed to retain control of the Senate.
Carrell might not have been so widely missed in Olympia in the 1990s, after he was first elected to the House of Representatives. He charged into office as a hard-edged ideologue chiefly known for leading a campaign to reduce fathers’ child support obligations. He could be abrasive in dealing with people he disagreed with.
Even then, though, he proved capable of winning passage of a landmark law, the Becca Bill. Named after a 13-year-old runaway girl found beaten to death in Spokane, the law expanded the power of courts and parents to detain and rescue youths on a self-destructive trajectory.
The Becca Bill also transformed the state’s truancy policies, requiring fast intervention when students started to skip classes without excuses. It became the foundation of many different efforts to save minors from the streets. The law’s tough love was a big improvement on permissive 1970s policies that had bestowed upon kids the freedom to jump off cliffs.
By the time Carrell was appointed to the Senate in 2004, the hard edges were softening. Most notably, he collaborated with then-Sen. Debbie Regala — a Tacoma Democrat — to fix the way the state Department of Corrections released felons from prison.
Their “fair share” bill helped protect Pierce County from the state’s penchant for dumping ex-cons here — a practice that saddled the county with an intolerably high crime rate. The legislation also provided more assistance to those released inmates to help them transition to life outside prison.
The package reflected the kind of lawmaker Carrell had become: both hard-nosed and humane.
It’s now up to the Pierce County Council to appoint his successor from three nominees offered by the county Republican Party. The GOP-led council will want to move quickly: The Majority Coalition that had been running the Senate has been trimmed into a mere Coalition — 22 Republicans and two Democratic allies who now face an equal number of party-line Democrats.
To replace Carrell, the county Republicans put the right person at the top of their short list: former Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri. Muri is a smart, amiable and principled conservative with a long record of effectively serving the public. He’s the obvious choice.