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Three big questions raised by the Senate's new GOP-driven majority

Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon have joined a coalition of Republicans in the Washington state Senate to form a majority. Will it mean an impasse on state K-12 education funding?
Rodney Tom

Rodney Tom

Lawmakers continue to huddle behind closed doors at the capitol.

Lawmakers continue to huddle behind closed doors at the capitol. MathTeacherGuy/Flickr

Democratic state Sens. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon have formally allied themselves with the Senate's 23 Republican representatives to take control of the Legislature's upper chamber by a 25-24 split.

The new coalition also released the details of a new plan for the Senate under which Senate Republicans (plus Tom and Sheldon) will control the flow of budget bills through the Senate's legislative processes — just as the Democratic majority controls the same in the House.

Tom, D-Bellevue, Sheldon, D-Potlatch, and Republican Senate leaders announced the alliance Monday morning. "This is the sort of cooperation that people are hungry for," said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and leader of the Republican caucus.

"We want to make sure we work across party lines," said Tom, who switched parties to become a Democrat in March 2006.

Democratic Gov-elect Jay Inslee issued a written statement, saying: "Regardless of the structure in the Senate, I look forward to working with legislators from both parties to move our state forward."

Following the Olympia press conference, Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, and a Democrat floor leader, said: "This is not unexpected. Twenty-three (Republicans) and two (Democrats) is not really a coalition per se." Frockt said the Democrats don't feel betrayed, knowing how Sheldon and Tom have stood conservatively for years on budget matters. "This is politics — 25 votes," Frockt said.

The alliance already has a formal plan to run the Senate. Tom would become majority leader. Sheldon, a senior senator who was exiled to membership in one — instead of the traditional three — committees last session because of his conservative leanings, will become president pro tempore of the Senate. The president pro tempore is responsible for managing the Senate's floor sessions when Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is not there.

The plan has Republicans chairing six Senate committees, the Democrats chairing six and both parties co-chairing three.

Republicans will chair the three committees that control the biggest upcoming budget battles — Ways and Means, K-12 Education and Health Care. Committee chairmen control which bills are sent to the full Senate because they decide if and when to hold hearings and votes in the committees.

Meanwhile, Democrats will select the chairs for the natural resources, agriculture and water, economic development, financial institutions, higher education and environment committees.

Bipartisan co-chairmanships are proposed for the human services, transportation and energy committees. The Republican chairs are to be Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, for human services, Sen.Curtis King, R-Yakima for transportation, and Sen. Doug Erickson, R-Ferndale for energy.

Despite helping form the alliance, Tom and Sheldon do not want to become Republican. Tom said he is a fiscal conservative, but socially progressive. Sheldon said: "A Democrat from [his Mason County] district is different from being a Democrat from Queen Anne Hill. I think there's room for Democrats of liberal and conservative persuasions."

As majority leader and president pro tempore respectively, Tom and Sheldon will automatically become members of the Rules Committee, which controls if and when bills leaving the comittees reach the full Senate for votes. This new configuration will give the Republican-oriented alliance the majority there.

This raises a series of questions:

1. How will the Democrats react? Dems are planning a still-unscheduled caucus to decide whether to share power, become the official minority, or do something else entirely. According to Frockt, the Democrats only learned of the alliance's committee organizational plans Monday morning.

"We don't believe the Republicans' take-it-or-leave-it plan offers the right way forward," wrote Democratic caucus leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, in a statement. "We remain hopeful that the Republicans will be open to negotiations to ensure the full function of the Senate."

2. Will Tom and Sheldon attend Republican caucus sessions, Democrat caucus sessions or a mix of both? No one on either side of the aisle knew Monday how that would work. Caucus meetings are usually political strategy sessions, and tensions could be raised if Senate members were reporting back and forth between the two.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 6:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm not sure why the Democratic establishment hasn't just accepted that if you decide to caucus with Republicans than de facto you are a Republican.

One is a member of a political party for a reason and one cannot just put-on and take-off one's affiliation like a jacket.

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 1:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Fine, let the Democrats whine. Maybe it would result in more Republicans being elected. Meantime, those of us who are sick of the Democratic Party's arrogance and irresponsibility in this state can sit back and have a good laugh as they expel the senators critical to their majority.

Looks like they have a problem!

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Hummmmm....those of you who are sick of the Democrats keep finding yourselves on the losing side of elections, don't you?

Goforride

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 5:43 p.m. Inappropriate

I'd say the moderates did okay this time around.

Inslee was elected on a promise not to initiate any new taxes. I-1185 won 65% of the vote statewide, and a majority in every county. The Democrats have lost control of the state Senate.

Ain't me who's doing the whining, that's for sure.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 8:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Senator Tom ran as a Democrat and took their money. And this is how he repays that loyalty? And he thinks the Reps will play fair with him all the time? He should have been HONEST and ran as a Independent if that is his leaning.

I think Dems should just shun him. He'll get the message.

He did this to try to control K-12 public education.

westello

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 10:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Right, the Dems have been trying to "shun" Sen. Sheldon for years. He's still there and they're still trying to insult him out of office. Democrats profess to believe in Diversity, sometimes.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 2:49 a.m. Inappropriate

The Democratic party is a political party for people - all kinds of people - who share a political perspective. The diversity is in the all kinds of people, not in the political perspective.

coolpapa

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 2:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Diversity is when people look different but sound the same? Not the usual definition.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 12:47 a.m. Inappropriate

So reaching across the aisle is really really bad if you're a Democrat, but expected of you if you're a Republican. Seems the big tent of the Democrats only has room for those who march in lock step.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 2:50 a.m. Inappropriate

There is a difference between reaching across the aisle and walking across the aisle to join the other side.

coolpapa

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

The only reason the aisle is so wide that they had to walk across it is that Democrats have been in control of state government for decades and built it that way. Perhaps if the Democrats remembered that there are people on the other side this wouldn't be an issue.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 1:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Shun away! The Democrats want to formally hand over control of the state senate to the Republicans? Go for it, the fools.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 7:11 a.m. Inappropriate

C'mon, get the story straight, Notfan. Two senators who called themselves Democrats "want to formally hand over control of the state senate to the Republicans." Nothing Ed Murray and the rest of the Democrats (who really are Democrats) could do about it, and Lord knows, Murray tried.

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Murray's in today's paper saying he doesn't think the Democrats should be part of the Senate coalition. Fine. Toss 'em out into the wilderness, then. Let 'em get a taste of it.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 6:02 a.m. Inappropriate

After a year or two of an Inslee Administration, Democrats may be running across the aisle. They may not like the taste the "Secret Sauce".

Cameron

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 6:12 a.m. Inappropriate

They should both be expelled from the Democratic Party. Then they may do as they wish, who cares?

The Democratic Senators should make no deal with the Republicans. Tom and Sheldon becoming Republicans, puts the Republicans in control anyway. So, it would be foolish to make some deal that makes it look like the Republicans would not be in control, because they would be. Why give them cover? So, no deals.

Then no deals with the Republican at all, no business at all. Use every rigamorole political process trick in the world to ensure no business gets done in the Senate. The election is next year.

After a while of no deals with the Republican controlled Senate. Make a deal on getting business done in the Senate. The deal being Tom and Sheldon lose any leadership position;Tom and Sheldon are appointed to no committee, not even as the most junior committee member; and Tom and Sheldon are appointed to nothing else; then, the Democrats would allow business to transpire in the Senate. That would be the deal.

Until then,to hell with the scumbags Tom and Sheldon. They are liars to their constituents, and fraudulently obtained campaign contributions. These are solid scumbags. Tom and Sheldon are dishonorable individuals.

jhande

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:14 p.m. Inappropriate

And standing on politics as usual, in fact resorting to 'every rigamorole political process trick in the world' is better?

Ye gods jhande. Remind me not to do business with you.

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 2:57 a.m. Inappropriate

These guys and the Republican Senators have crossed the line of propriety. All bets then come off. Republicans are playing hardball, the Democrats were elected to play hardball back.

jhande

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 5:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Some hardball that'd be. Pick up your marbles and go home?

NotFan

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Simply choose who you do business with, it's elementary.

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 3:36 a.m. Inappropriate

shoot Tom and Sheldon pulling this stunt is nothing but political rigamorole.

jhande

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:34 a.m. Inappropriate

So. You allow that it's also ridiculous and blocks results.

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 6:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Nobody knows which caucus Tom and Sheldon will attend? Seriously? Those senators have made it crystal clear they are withdrawing from the Democratic caucus and will caucus with Republicans. And Ed Murray is savvy enough to let them, and to bar them from the Democratic caucus as long as this nonsense is going on.

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Rodney Tom will be remembered fondly as the Pete von Reichbauer of his generation. Tim Shelton lives under a bridge and feasts on grubs and worms. Putting The Roach in charge of Governmental Operations is a fun idea -- if you believe that the sun only rises because it is propitiated daily with human sacrifices. I think I might have an old obsidian knife stashed away in a bag somewhere if she can't find hers.

woofer

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

It's just like my old whore of a politician Bill Finkbeiner who got elected in '92 on the Clinton coattails, even though his dad was a GOP stalwart and he never would have made it through the primary as a Republican.

Then, after the GOP took control of the legislature in '94, he switched parties, but not before the election, and stayed as a Republican until the Democrats to control of the legislature whereupon he quit when it wasn't fun anymore.

Tom is probably safe because of the mechanics of the top-two primary and the waterfall of Medina money, but perhaps real Democrats can evicerate Sheldon.

Goforride

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

They've tried to defeat him. His voters like him. Does anyone remember that Winston Churchill switched parties, twice?

simorgh

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, and when he switched parties, he crossed the floor and sat on the opposite bench. He fully embraced his new party, with none of this "I'm really still a Democrat but just caucusing with the Republicans" nonsense that we hear from Sheldon and Tom.

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

This is bad news for our state's kids. Tom, Sheldon and the Republicans passed a budget that slashed another $80 million from education last year -- after $2.5 billion in cuts to K-12 alone. They need to focus on complying with the Supreme Court's McCleary decision and the state Constitution. Fund our public schools. Instead, Tom bashes teachers and promotes a corporate agenda that has nothing to do with what's best for students.

RichWood

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 2:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Rodney Tom does not "bash teachers". He merely doesn't obey the WEA. There is a difference.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 2:44 p.m. Inappropriate

One can almost see the foaming mouths of the posters who hate Sheldon and Tom for trying to conduct state business in a responsible manner. Democrats should have taken care of business when they had the chance. Too many special sessions and crying wolf has led to this.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Dec 11, 10:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't consider myself a fence sitter, but neither can I affiliate with either party.

How can we expect bi-partisan cooperation unless people start allowing shared fences, with gates that allow information flow?

Must we always see froth from the mouths of the politicians instead of reasonableness?

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 3:02 a.m. Inappropriate

As long as politicians such as Rodney Tom are owned by billionaires, you will see froth from their mouths.

jhande

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:38 a.m. Inappropriate

I thought billionaires preferred experience and efficiency.

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 5:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Not a single comment promoting "doing what is best" for the citizens of Washington...it's all about the party and the party identification. Perhaps if the one party majority Democrats were capable of running sessions on time, producing budgets that are sustainable and promoting govenment reform, they could have prevented the so called defection. It is really amazing what can get accomplished for the people if you don't care who gets the credit, unfortunately that isn't how Olympia works...or more accurately doesn't work.

Cameron

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps politics should be run with news reporting that simply says "the democrats did this" "the republicans did that" "the etc did this".

Efficient to remove individual names from everything in politics. And, voters would have to get smart (because in this perfect world, there would be no corporate or massive spending to "educate".)

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 8:26 a.m. Inappropriate

This appears to be a formulation of some lobbyists who do not want anything to happen in the legislature in 2013.

It is better to have a government than a mish-mash. This proposed confusion lacks accountability.

Jan

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 12:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Just more of the Republican war on children.

word

Posted Thu, Dec 13, 1:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Washington seems to be on a path of seeking new solutions to societal challenges. A progressive path Just five weeks ago, with approval of same sex marriage and marijuana decriminalization, the voters of our state approved a new social compact between individuals and the community. And progressives and the press cheered.

Just three days ago, 25 state senators announced a new approach to governing. A shared power approach. An approach based on a win-win, collaboration and consensus philosophy rather than a winner and loser philosophy. And progressives and the press booed, unable to move to a new governing paradigm.

You've just got to love people.

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 3:41 a.m. Inappropriate

You mean 25 Republican Senators marching in lockstep, right? Funny, I don't see anything new about that. "A new governing paradigm" is meaningless pablum.

jhande

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 8:01 a.m. Inappropriate

The senate D's have been offered a power sharing arrangement. Although the coalition has the plum assignments, anything can happen. For example, the senate D's could confound us all and join the coalition to move it toward a more progressive path. A one caucus approach to problem solving. More realistically, senators could work together to forge a governing path that attempts to meet the interests of all participating senators rather than forcing partisan positions down the throats of the minority. The senate, under the traditional power structure, has operated under a facsimile of that philosophy many times in the past. If the senate D's decide to play along, the proposed power structure would almost certainly lead to a collaborative process in which they achieve most of the policies they would have achieved under the traditional structure. The state has some daunting fiscal challenges. Why not try a new power sharing approach to problem solving. And, at least with this approach the folks who live in eastern and rural Washington have a seat at the table for the first time in a decade. Hard to complain about that.

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 6:01 p.m. Inappropriate

"Although the coalition has the plum assignments, anything can happen..."

Do you have any idea what those plum assignments mean? They mean control of what bills come to the Senate, who gets the tie-breaker vote, and what the Senate budget will be. No, anything cannot happen. What the Republicans want will happen.

sarah90

Posted Sun, Dec 16, 5:59 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree. The glass is full to the exact same degree whether one takes the half full or the half empty attitude. Nonetheless the attitude chosen makes all the difference, more often than not it self-fulfills.

afreeman

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