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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington State Auditor 'Going Back To Work,' Defends Past Business Dealings

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Washington State Auditor's Office
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Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley in a photo his office posted to social media January 16, 2015.

Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley said he is "puzzled" by the federal government's investigation of a real estate escrow and title business Kelley closed before he took office in 2013.

In a brief written statement Monday, Kelley praised his employees for continuing to work through the "distractions" of a federal subpoena of his office and a Treasury Department search of his house.

In the statement Kelley said all of his actions "have been lawful and appropriate." Kelley was accused in a lawsuit of misappropriating funds related to his company. In a deposition he acknowledged moving $3.8 million through a series of wire transfers. That money eventually ended up in accounts linked to a bank in Belize. Kelley settled that lawsuit and the details are confidential.

In Monday's statement Kelley gave no indication he plans to resign. However, were he to resign, here’s how the Secretary of State’s office says the vacancy would be filled.

Governor's appointment

If the resignation happened prior to candidate filing week, which begins May 11, then Governor Jay Inslee would appoint a successor and the position would be on the ballot this year.

If Kelley were to resign after filing week begins Inslee would still make an appointment, but that appointee would serve out the remainder of Kelley’s term, which ends in 2016.

The state Auditor in Washington is fourth in line to succeed the governor behind the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state and the treasurer.

Possibility of recall

Recall is another possibility. In Washington a recall petition is filed with the secretary of state’s office detailing allegations of malfeasance or a violation of the oath of office on the part of the officeholder. That petition would then be forwarded to the attorney general who would seek a hearing in Thurston County Superior Court. A judge would decide if the recall would move forward.

At that point the recall petition sponsor would have to gather voter signatures equal to 25 percent of the total vote for that office in the previous election. For auditor that would be 714,189 signatures based on 2,856,757 total votes cast in that race in 2012.

Statewide recall unprecedented

The secretary of state’s office did some research on past resignations and state political scandals and found no recalls of a statewide office. One early Washington secretary of state was forced from office. Other statewide officeholders have died or left voluntarily -- for example, an attorney general left to become a judge.

In 1980 Washington’s speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader and a lobbyist were all convicted in a federal racketeering case involving state gambling. The case came to be known as “Gamscam.”

In 2013 Gordon Walgren, the former majority leader, published a book with co-author Peter Lewis in which he asserted his innocence and portrayed the federal investigation as politically motivated.

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."