‘Bipartisan’ state Senate means rejecting voters’ own values
Lawmakers continue to huddle behind closed doors at the capitol. Credit: MathTeacherGuy/Flickr
Republicans in the state Senate dropped a political bomb last month when they announced that they were seizing control of the majority with the help of two renegade Democrats. Calling themselves a philosophical majority, Republicans detailed their proposal for what they say is a power-sharing arrangement, and talked about bipartisanship, centrism and “putting the people of Washington first.”
As a member of the deposed majority, I would be lying if I said this didn’t initially feel like a hijacking. But wounded pride aside, this is politics, and as a member of the new minority, I would be foolish if I didn’t take the Republicans up on their invitation to move toward a more collaborative way of governing when the 2013 Legislature reconvenes on Jan. 14. Cooperation, moderation, policy over politics — these are good things.
But look a little closer and it becomes quite clear: That’s not what Republicans are offering. The people of Washington are as welcoming of bipartisanship as anyone. But above all, I believe the people of Washington look at the problems facing us as a state, and want to see solutions that get results in a way that reflect their values.
We have some significant challenges ahead, including a billion dollar budget shortfall, an order from the state Supreme Court to comply with the Legislature’s constitutional mandate to fully fund k-12 education, a chronically underfunded higher education system, funding and implementing the exchanges needed to expand coverage under federal health care reform, protecting our environment and natural resources and the jobs that depend on them and protecting and advancing women’s reproductive rights.
Unfortunately, the Republican plan simply will not advance the core values of a majority of the citizens of our state. In fact, in order to reach their philosophical majority, it seems they have had to make commitments to abandon several of the core values that I, and I believe a majority of Washingtonians, feel should be priorities — Democrats, Republicans or some combination. This last election strongly underscored this when voters elected pro-choice, pro-equality, pro-education and pro-environment candidates for president, U.S. senator, governor, all statewide offices except one, and majorities in our Congressional delegation, our state House and our state Senate — and they also approved marriage equality and marijuana legalization at the ballot box.
Shockingly, the Republicans’ new leader, Sen. Rodney Tom, has already said that Senate Republicans’ budget will not fully comply with the Supreme Court’s order on education funding. The Republicans have also said they do not support any new revenue for our state’s k-12 and higher education systems, even as our schools become increasingly uncompetitive with those in other states. As a result, the Republicans’ budget will result in either further cuts to higher education, dramatic cuts to social services — or both.
As an expression of bipartisanship, the Republicans were pleased to offer Democrats chairs on six watered-down committees — including three weak environment committees in place of one strong committee — and kept the chairs of the six most important committees for themselves. But again, wounded pride aside, let's look more closely at how this structure will support the core values of a majority of Washingtonians.
In the health care committee, Republicans selected a chair who is, according to her voting, anti-choice and has traditionally opposed federal health care reform. Their choice to chair the labor committee has been a vocal and outspoken critic of collective bargaining. For the law and justice committee, they selected as chair with a 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association — this at the time when sadly, due to the horrible events in Newtown, gun control is likely to come before this committee. To chair the energy committee, Republicans have tapped a senator with a zero percent rating from the Washington Conservation Voters, just when we elect a governor with exciting proposals for expanding our renewable energy opportunities and the green jobs that come with them. They also proposed this committee only have four members, three of whom they will appoint; the best of them has a 30 percent Conservation Voters rating.
More dramatic still is what will not be discussed. In order to reach their “philosophical majority,” it seems this coalition has had to agree that any reproductive rights legislation — or any legislation dealing with so-called “social issues” at all — are off the table. While nearly all of their caucus opposes women’s reproductive rights, with the remaining Democrats, there are clearly the votes in the Senate to advance critical policies such as supporting a women’s right to choose. But if this new majority will not even allow a vote, these policies are dead on arrival. So again, while cooperation, moderation and policy over politics sounds good, I would ask, “at what cost?” If we can only reach bipartisanship by abandoning some of those issues that are absolute core values for a majority of Washingtonians, is it worth it?
The bottom line is that this is not the middle. This is not common ground. This is extreme.
What initially felt like a hijacking to me has turned out to be a hijacking after all. Senate Republicans have hijacked the legislative process under a cloak of bipartisanship, in order to block critical legislation supporting women’s rights, social programs, education and the environment. This does not reflect the values of our great state. These policies were thoroughly rejected at the ballot box in November, and will make harmful, polarizing public policy or, worse, stop positive policies from advancing or even seeing the light of day.
Washingtonians should take note, look beyond the self-congratulatory rhetoric and pay attention to what’s really going on in the state Senate.
For myself, while I am flattered to be offered a chair by this new coalition, more important to me than my own position in the Senate is my ability to advance and protect the core values that I, and a majority of Washingtonians, consider priorities. I was elected as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, equality, education, Washington jobs and the environment and I simply cannot abandon those core values in the name of bipartisanship. If being bipartisan means agreeing that some of these most important core values are off the table, then I may need to simply remain Democrat.