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Voters support school board recall aimed at WA Republican running for governor

Gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird smiles at the camera in front of a bluish green background
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Bird for Governor
Semi Bird was elected to the Richland School Board in 2021 and is now running for governor in the 2024 election.

A Republican candidate running to become Washington State's next governor remains optimistic about his campaign, despite a recent recall effort targeting his seat on a city school board.

Initial election results from Tuesday's primary show a majority of voters in Richland supporting the recall of Semi Bird, along with two other board members of the Richland School District.

Bird says the recall is "unfortunate" but that he expects it will energize his campaign for governor.

"The message for our constituents is simply this: You saw what happened here in Richland, now, get active and get engaged," Bird said.

The recall comes after Bird, alongside fellow board members Audra Byrd and Kari Williams, decided in early 2022 to make masks optional in Richland schools. Bird says the decision was "the right thing to do" and a way for him to keep promises he made to the community as he ran for a seat on the school board.

But critics say Bird, Byrd, and Williams violated state law with the mask policy change. The statewide mask mandate was still in effect at the time, and the vote to make masks optional came as a surprise to many in the community – including some fellow board members who noted at the meeting that the change was illegal.

"If you are an elected official and you take an oath of office, you also take an oath of office to follow the law," said Sara Watson, who helped spearhead the recall effort.

The three board members and the Richland School District settled a lawsuit last year that claimed they violated the Open Public Meetings Act, according to reporting from the Tri-City Herald.

Semi Bird was elected to the Richland School Board in 2021, with his term set to expire in November of this year. He faces a crowded field of candidates in the race for governor, such as fellow Republican and former Congressman Dave Reichert. High-profile Democrats including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, and State Senator Mark Mullet are also in the running.

According to updated results posted Wednesday, roughly 55% of Richland voters support removing Bird from the school board, with an estimated 3,600 uncounted ballots remaining in the county. Official results will be certified August 15.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.