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Posts tagged as “Senate”

The process, not the substance

court

Here's a good example, in the just-released Washington Supreme Court case of Lisa Brown v Brad Owen, of why you often have to be careful in assessing what has just happened. The case was decided, but the question it answered wasn't what you might have thought it was.

For example, this from a press release today from Senator Mike Hewitt: “Today’s state Supreme Court decision was a win for the people of Washington. Their approval of Initiative 960 told the Legislature that they wanted it to show restraint when raising taxes, and they wanted more transparency when it came to knowing how much legislation would take out of their pockets. It’s great news, especially as we’re hearing talk of new taxes to fill the state’s budget hole, that the public will be protected from the Legislature passing huge tax hikes by a simple majority vote."

Hold on a moment.

The underpinning is Initiative 960, a Tim Eyman measure passed in 2007. The first descriptive sentence in the voter guide said that "This measure would require either a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature or voter approval for all tax increases," and that pretty much describes it. But its constitutionality was challenged, even before its passage, and that issue remained an open question.

On February 29, 2008, the Senate voted on Senate Bill 6931, which ordered that "the liquor control board shall add an equivalent surcharge of $0.42 per liter on all retail sales of spirits, excluding licensee, military, and tribal sales." the money could go half to substance abuse treatment and half to DUI enforcement efforts. It was in effect a tax increase measure. The vote was 25-21 in favor, but Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen ruled that the measure had failed, because it didn't receive a two-thirds vote. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who supported the bill, protested, saying I-960 was unconstitutional. Owen replied that courts decide constitutionality, he wasn't a court, and that was that. Brown took the matter to the Washington Supreme Court, asking for a writ of mandamus - an order declaring that the bill had indeed passed and therefore needed to be advanced to the House for action there. (Both Owen and Brown, by the way, are Democrats.)

The Supreme Court left Owen's ruling in place. But what's key here is why. (more…)

WA: No Senate drama, again

Patty Murray

Patty Murray

The first Washington state U.S. Senate contest of the new millennium was one of the most dramatic ever: The battle between incumbent Republican Slade Gorton and Democratic challenger Maria Cantwell (eventually won by Cantwell) was so close days went by before its contours were clear.

Haven't been any like that since. Cantwell won a solid re-election in 2006, and the senior senator, Democrat Patty Murray, did the same in 2004 against a solid challenger, Republican Representative George Nethercutt. These were not close calls.

Murray is next up again, next year (and she's expected to run). No clear challenger has emerged. There will be one, of course; Senate seats just don't go uncontested, and it would be bad politics to give a senator a free ride. Whether she draws a challenger as strong as Nethercutt is another question. And since 2004, Washington has become more Democratic.

On the national Daily Kos site, a lot of this is reviewed today alongside some new poll numbers.

These check her favorable/unfavorable numbers (55%/40%, not great but suggesting no re-elect problems). They also pit her against two of the better-known and probably stronger Republicans in the state, Attorney General Rob McKenna and 8th District Representative Dave Reichert; they show her prevailing 55%-39% and 53%-40% respectively. (Her name ID is also much higher than theirs, so that may give her some extra help in this polling.) Neither McKenna nor Reichert are likely to run against her, though, and almost any other Republican is unlikely to do as well.

If she winds up with a little-known opponent, all this may suggest why.

An odd couple, and an idea

Two Northwest House Democrats turned thumbs down on the conference committee stimulus package. Idaho's Walt Minnick, coming from the Blue Dog conservative side, wasn't hard to understand; like most of the other critics, he thought there was too much spending and too little likelihood the bill would get the job done. And he had the credibility of having developed an alternative of his own: “My bill was a high-powered rifle. This bill is a shotgun, and it will add nearly $1 trillion we do not have to a debt already out of control.” So, siding with the Republicans.

But then there too was the nay from Oregon's Peter DeFazio - for almost exactly the opposite reasons. Too many cuts from the bill for spending proposals, in DeFazio's view.

Of course, no one knows exactly what will work best to pump some adrenaline into the economy.

Some further attention ought to go, though, to one suggestion DeFazio had - a procedural one applying to the Senate.

The idea in the Senate is that to pass controversial legislation, you have to have not just a simple majority (50 senators and the vice president, if all are present and voting) but 60 votes to override a filibuster. The Senate rule basically is that you can't stop a senator from speaking on the floor - for hours or days - unless you round up 60 votes for "cloture." In recent years, we haven't seen many real filibusters, instead abbreviating to the idea that you need 60 votes to force a bill to the floor if the minority says it even might try to filibuster.

DeFazio's suggestion (according to the Bend Bulletin): Eliminate the niceties. If the Republicans, or anyone else, wants to filibuster, let 'em filibuster. Make 'em work for it. Let it all out there. For that matter, entertain us - and point up what's at stake at the same time.

Here's a case where some bread and circuses could actually result in better lawmaking . . .