Dec 10 2012

Chaos in the WA Senate?

Published by at 4:34 pm under Washington

Senate
The power grab announced. (photo/Secretary of State’s office)

 

westcascades

Two years ago, Oregon Democrats and Republicans hit what might have been a tremendous problem. To the 60-seat House chamber, exactly 30 members of each party had been elected. how could control of the chamber be managed?

Carefully, it turned out. There was some chatter about someone in the caucuses splitting off and winning control for the other side, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the party leaders worked together and named co-chairs, who cautiously avoided land mines and worked through what became a productive term, in a professional way. It took a long series of compromises, good will and fair bargaining.

What has happened in the Washington Senate is unlikely to lead to so well-regarded an end result.

The November elections left the Washington Senate with a narrow majority, 26 to 23 Republicans, but a majority nonetheless. Preliminary organizational work began, including naming new committee chairs.

Then today, two of those Democrats, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon (who for many years has been a split-off vote among Democrats) said they would join the Republican caucus for organizational purposes, with Tom and Sheldon taking the top two leadership positions, and committee chairs split between the parties. (That latter part sounds more egalitarian than it is; most of the major chairs would be held by Republicans.)

The remaining Democrats have protested, but whether they have any options to stop the coalition is unclear.

Coalitions have run legislative chambers across the country from time to time, over the years. Alaska has had them in the not too distant past; going back a good deal further, so have Oregon and Idaho. they tend not to work very well, and by their nature are unstable.

Because there are questions of loyalty and advantage-taking, the emotional tenor of this session is likely to be strained to say the least. There will be fury in some quarters, and cooperation may be hard to find. The metaphorical long knives will be out, soon.

The challenge Washington will face this term – getting productive work out of its upper legislative chamber – is probably much greater than the challenge Oregon faced the last couple of split-control years.

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