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April 20, 1972
Honorable Hal Wolf
State Representative, 22nd District
Yelm, Washington 98597 Cite as: AGLO 1972 No. 25 (not official)
This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion with regard to the extent that a state employee may participate in certain partisan political campaigns.
In general response to this inquiry we are enclosing herewith a copy of AGO 1972 No. 7. We would call your particular attention to the material appearing on pages 10 through 18 of this opinion under the heading "participation in political activities by public employees."
With regard to the specific question of whether the various categories of state or local governmental employees referred to in this opinion may attend a county, state or national political convention as a delegate, we answer as follows:
(1) Insofar as those state employees covered by our general civil service law (chapter 41.06 RCW) are concerned, we do not believe that mere service as a delegate to such a convention constitutes the holding of a "political party office" within the meaning of RCW 41.06.250 (2), as quoted on pages 10-11 of the enclosed opinion.1/ Instead, we would limit this term to such [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] permanent and continuing positions within a political party as those of precinct, county or state committeeman, chairman, etc. As noted on page 2 of AGO 1972 No. 7, statutes such as RCW 41.06.250 (2) must be construed in the light of constitutionally guaranteed "freedom of speech" ‑ and for this reason, we believe that the courts would be most hesitant to extend the prohibitions of this statute to any cases not clearly covered by its express terms. Moreover, we also note that although RCW 41.06.250 (2) does prohibit a state civil service employee from holding a "political party office," the preceding clause of the statute nevertheless expressly states that
". . . Employees shall have the right to vote and to express their opinions on all political subjects and candidates, . . ."
Essentially, of course, this is what the role of a delegate amounts to ‑ voting and expressing an opinion on political subjects and candidates.
(2) With regard to civil service employees of higher educational institutions, our answer would be the same ‑ to the extent that these institutions have adopted regulations governing their civil service employees which are substantially similar to RCW 41.06.250 (2), supra, in content. As pointed out on pages 12 and 13 of AGO 1972 No. 7 [[to Stewart Bledsoe, State Representative on February 10, 1972]], this statute itself no longer applies to this category of civil service employees ‑ but most if not all of the employing institutions currently have regulations in effect which are, for the most part, identical to the statute.
(3) In the case of those state or local governmental employees who are covered by the federal "Hatch Act," the ability of such employees to serve as delegates to a political convention is governed by the federal regulations which pertain to these employees. These regulations, which were attached to AGO 1972 No. 7 as Appendices D and E, are also attached hereto ‑ and we would direct your particular attention to § 151.122 (11) and § 733.122 (11), both of which expressly prohibit any employees who are covered thereby from "serving as a delegate, alternate, or proxy to a political party convention; . . ."
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
(4) Insofar as the employees of local governmental entities, generally, are concerned ‑ reference here must be made to any local, county or city ordinances or regulations ‑ as pointed out on page 14 of AGO 1972 No. 7.
(5) City firemen and police officers may not be required to participate in any political activity ‑ by virtue of RCW 41.08.160 and RCW 41.12.160. However, these personnel may so participate on a voluntary basis ‑ unless prohibited by some local ordinance or resolution.
(6) On the other hand, RCW 41.14.190, relating to those employees of a county sheriff's office who are covered by the civil service system established by chapter 41.14 RCW, prohibits those personnel either voluntarily or involuntarily from rendering any "political service to any person or party whatsoever." This is much broader language than that contained in RCW 41.06.250 (2), supra, and most likely would be construed by a court to prohibit even the mere service as a delegate to a political party convention on the part of any employees who are subject to its provisions.
(7) Finally, the question of whether those state or local governmental employees who are not covered by any of the foregoing statutes or regulations may serve as delegates to a political party convention is a policy question rather than a legal one ‑ dependent upon the wishes of the individual's employer. Accord, AGO 1972 No. 7, at page 16.
It is hoped that the foregoing resume will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/Repeated for ease of reference, this subsection reads as follows:
". . .
"(2) Employees shall have the right to vote and to express their opinions on all political subjects and candidates, but shall not hold any political party office or participate in the management of a partisan, political campaign. Nothing in this section shall prohibit a classified employee from participating fully in campaigns relating to constitutional amendments, referendums, initiatives, and issues of a similar character, and for nonpartisan offices."