Recall efforts were mounted against Bird and two fellow school board members following their vote to make facial coverings optional in Richland schools during the COVID-19 pandemic
The Center Square Washington
Semi Bird, a former Richland School Board director ousted from public office following an Aug. 1 recall vote, is promoting his removal as a campaign pitch for Washington state governor in 2024.
“Hear it from me directly, this recall has not hindered me, but energized me to continue to choose the people of Washington state over politics,” Bird said in an Aug. 3 Facebook post.
“Let’s make history and give Olympia the Bird,” he said, closing with a request, “Please donate to our campaign.”
Recall efforts were mounted against Bird and two fellow school board members, Audra Byrd and Kari Williams, following their vote during a special Feb. 15, 2022 meeting to make facial coverings optional in Richland schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority decision was opposed by two other board members and contrary to state-mandated masking requirements.
That led to Richland schools being closed for two days, with Bird, Byrd, and Williams later rescinding their vote. Gov. Jay Inslee lifted the indoor masking mandate for schools about three weeks later after a statewide decline in coronavirus infection rates.
The recall campaign initiated last year ultimately led to the Aug. 1 primary election, when voters by over 53% ousted Bird, Byrd, and Williams. Ballot language alleged they violated district policies and procedures and the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
In rebuttal, all three said they took action to make masking optional because local students were suffering emotionally and academically. Bird called the masking mandates a violation of constitutional rights even though legal experts said emergency health measures imposed by Inslee had the power of law.
Their removal from office was effective Aug. 15, when results were certified by Benton County elections officials. Overall voter turnout for the primary was 37%.
Some questioned how a self-proclaimed conservative candidate in conservative central Washington expects to win a statewide race when he couldn’t prevail in a local recall campaign.
In a video aired Tuesday by Fox News Digital, Bird blamed an influx of “progressives” in Benton County and conservatives more interested in late-summer vacations than voting in an off-year primary.
During their time in office, Bird said the three recalled school directors had been stressing accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility within the district while opposing ideological acts – “I would say indoctrination of our children” – that “irritated the progressive left.”
“We have a lot of progressives who have moved into our county, specifically through our federal contracting agencies that work here … and so they were against us from the beginning,” said Bird, who mentioned Pacific Northwest National Laboratory by name.
PNNL is managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science with a main campus located in Richland, employing over 5,700 people.
The mask choice issue, Bird said in the Fox video, was “a culmination of change and accountability that we brought forth that the progressives within our district did not like.”’
Bird, a behavior analyst and decorated military veteran, contended that the three school directors were supported by parents of students in the district, but were outspent “by tens of thousands of dollars” in pre-election publicity, faced opposition from the teachers’ union, and failed to rally “the masses of conservatives who are our base ….”
“Statewide, we had lower than 25% voter turnout among conservatives,” said Bird, claiming they were “more focused on getting that last vacation in the weeks before going back to school” than thinking about a recall election.
It remains to be seen whether Bird’s promotion of his recall translates into increased voter support and funding in his bid for governor.
To date, 22 candidates – including eight Republicans and eight Democrats – have filed notice with Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission.
Bird lists $146,296 in campaign contributions, including a $6,000 personal loan. Among GOP-declared candidates, Bird trails fellow Republican Dave Reichert, a former U.S. congressman and King County sheriff, who has contributions totaling $236,131.
Both men trail the three leading Democrats vying for governor: state Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz with $406,112 in contributions, state Sen. Mark Mullet with $611,665, and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has brought in more that $3.5 million to date.
All hope to succeed Inslee, who opted not to seek re-election to a fourth four-year term in office.
Back in Richland, a process is underway to replace the three ousted school board members. Educational Service District 123 is accepting applications until Aug. 23 for an interim appointment to the Richland board with current incumbents Rick Jansons and Jill Oldson. That will provide a three-member quorum which can then appoint two more interim members.
Oldson is up for re-election this year and advanced to the November general election against challenger Gene Nemeth.
Even though Kari Williams was recalled from the board, she also remains a candidate for re-election in November. In the primary, she collected 28% of the vote to finish second behind challenger Katrina Waters’ 47% showing.
For more information about the Richland School Board interim appointment, visit www.esd123.org.
This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.
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