On October 22, 1980, the Washington Supreme Court rules that State Senator Gordon L. Walgren must remain on the ballot for re-election to his Kitsap County senate seat even though a federal jury in the "Gamscam" case has found him guilty of three felonies. The state constitution and statutes disqualify convicted felons from holding elected office, but the Court decides that Walgren will not be officially convicted until after he is sentenced. The ruling is not made at Walgren's request. Although he won the September Democratic primary for the 23rd district senate seat, Walgren suspended his campaign after the jury verdict on October 3 and party officials designated Kitsap County Treasurer Billie Eder as the Democratic candidate. Kitsap County Republicans sued to have Walgren, not Eder, named on the ballot, and the Supreme Court ruling grants their request. The strategy succeeds. The Republican candidate, conservative State Representative Ellen Craswell (1932-2008), trounces Walgren in the November 4 vote. Craswell will hold the senate seat for 12 years and later run unsuccessfully for governor.
Gordon Walgren, a lawyer and former Kitsap County Prosecutor, had represented the 23rd District in the State Legislature since 1966, when he was elected to one of the district’s House of Representatives positions. Two years later he won the 23rd District senate seat. In 1975, his fellow Democrats chose him as Senate majority leader and in 1980 he was planning to run for Washington Attorney General.
Those plans were changed on April 2, 1980, when federal prosecutors charged Walgren, along with House of Representatives co-Speaker John Bagnariol (ca. 1932-2009) and lobbyist Patrick Gallagher, in what became known as the Gamscam case. The three were accused of racketeering, conspiracy, and other felonies based on an undercover FBI investigation during which they allegedly agreed to promote legalized gambling in Washington in return for a share of the profits. Facing trial in United States District Court, Walgren and Bagnariol abandoned their campaigns for higher office.
But even as their trial proceeded in the courtroom of Judge Walter T. McGovern, both Walgren and Bagnariol sought re-election to their legislative positions. Bagnariol lost his House seat in the September 16 primary. Walgren won the Democratic primary for the 23rd District Senate seat, defeating challenger Frances Haddon Morgan. Expecting to be exonerated by the jury, Walgren campaigned against the Republican nominee, 23rd District Representative Ellen Craswell, known as one of the most conservative members of the House.
Then on October 3, 1980, the jury rendered its verdict. Jurors acquitted Walgren of five of the 13 charges he faced and were unable to agree on five more, which were dismissed, but they found him guilty of racketeering, mail fraud, and a Travel Act violation. The jury found Gallagher guilty on 14 counts and Bagnariol guilty on nine. As in most cases, the defendants were to be sentenced several weeks later, with sentencing first scheduled for November 3 but then moved to a date after the election.
Walgren announced that he was abandoning his re-election campaign even as he and his attorney, Murray Guterson, said they would ask Judge McGovern to overrule the verdict. The Kitsap County Democratic Central Committee chose Kitsap County Treasurer Billie Eder to replace Walgren as the Democratic candidate for the senate seat. At the Democrats’ request, Kitsap County Auditor Sherril Huff began preparations to place Eder’s name on the ballot for the November 4 vote.
Not Disqualified -- Yet
On October 15, the Kitsap County Republican Central Committee and other Republican voters sued Huff, arguing that the Auditor was required to keep Walgren’s name on the ballot because he would not be disqualified as a candidate until after he was sentenced. The Kitsap County Superior Court assigned the case to visiting King County Judge Frank D. Howard, who two days later ruled in favor of the Republicans. Huff appealed directly to the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments four days after Judge Howard’s ruling. One day later, on October 22, 1980, the Court announced its order requiring that Huff place Walgren’s name, not Eder’s, on the November 4 ballot.
The Court explained its decision in an opinion issued several weeks later. It pointed out that despite Walgren’s stated wish to abandon his campaign, he had no legal ability to remove his name from the ballot: State law only allows candidates to voluntarily withdraw from an election for a few days following the deadline for filing for office. After that, the auditor is only allowed -- and required -- to remove a candidate’s name if the candidate dies or becomes disqualified.
Being convicted of a felony disqualifies a person from holding office or voting. However, although a jury finding of guilty is routinely called a conviction (as it was frequently in the coverage of the Gamscam case), the Republicans who wanted to keep Walgren’s name on the ballot argued that a person is not officially convicted until the judge imposes the sentence. The Court agreed. It recognized that in some contexts (such as cross-examining a witness about having been convicted of a crime) a jury verdict, even before the formal sentencing, counts as a conviction. However, it decided that a person should not be deprived of the civil rights to vote and hold office until after the judge imposes sentence.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Walgren proceeded to campaign actively. Eder supported him, arguing that a vote for Walgren meant a vote to keep the seat in Democratic hands. Not many voters were persuaded. Craswell won handily with 30,141 votes (73.52 percent) to 10,855 (26.48 percent) for Walgren.
Walgren appeared before Judge McGovern on November 24, 1980, and was sentenced to five years in federal prison. He served two years before being released on parole. After his release, Walgren successfully petitioned for reinstatement as a lawyer (he had been disbarred following the conviction) and later got two of his three convictions overturned. He continued his career as a lawyer and lobbyist but he did not seek elective office again.
Craswell was re-elected to the Senate seat in 1984 and 1988 before being upset by Democrat Betti L. Sheldon in 1992. Four years later, Craswell won the Republican nomination for governor but lost badly to Gary Locke (b. 1950) in the general election.