It's been a good legislative session so far for Janéa Holmquist Newbry.
The Republican senator from Moses Lake and two colleagues — Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Rep. Mike Manweller, R-Ellensburg — held a press conference on March 14 to celebrate 22 Senate business-oriented bills being passed and sent to the Democrat-controlled House. The three are the Republicans’ business issue leaders for their chambers.
They were flanked by representatives of almost all of the business lobbying groups in Olympia.
A sign propped up next to them said that Washington's businesses pay the ninth highest share of taxes among the 50 states —providing, 56.8 percent of state and local revenues versus a national average of 47.9 percent. These and other statistics on the sign came from the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Research Council, the Washington Roundtable and the Washington Association Realtors — all business groups.
Holmquist Newbry has introduced 22 bills so far this session, mostly complicated business and labor legislation. Four ended up on March 14's list of celebrated bills. Her top successes were three workers' compensation reform bills. Her biggest setback was an attempt to create a training wage — below minimum wage — for teen employees.
Most of the 22 Senate-passed business bills went through the Labor and Commerce Committee, which Holmquist Newbry chaired. Her ascent to a chair position occurred when two Democrats joined 23 Republicans last December to create the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus controlling the Senate. That is the first time she has been part of a majority, where a lawmaker has greater opportunity to make a mark.
Holmquist Newbry, now 38, was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2002 as the youngest member of that chamber, following a three-year stint as a legislative aide. She switched to the Senate in 2006. She has run either unopposed or won by a huge margin in each of her races in east-central Washington. Her day job is described as "insurance consultant" on Web sites, although Holmquist Newbry views being a full-time legislator as her real job. She is young enough to sometimes say "awesome" when complimenting a person testifying before her committee.
Her voting record is among the most conservative in the Senate. The Association of Washington Business, the Washington Farm Bureau and the National Federation of Business consistently rank her voting record very high — all three naming her their "legislator of the year" at some time or another. Environmental and labor organizations consistently rank her very low.
"I don't believe she's carrying anyone's water," said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, a frequent opponent of Holmquist Newbry on business and labor issues. "I think she's sincere."
Kris Tefft, lobbyist for the AWB, believes she is motivated by attracting jobs to her agricultural district, which is also sprinkled with high-tech sites such as a Boeing test airfield in Moses Lake and a Microsoft data center in Quincy. The district stretches across Kittitas, Grant and Lincoln counties and a small part of Yakima County.
She is deeply into business and labor issues — one of the most cutthroat and volatile subjects in the Legislature with deep-pocketed interests pounding each other across a wide front.
Holmquist Newbry declined to be interviewed for this story, citing her busy schedule with all her spare time taken up with caring for her first-born 4-month old son Makaio, which is Hawaiian for Mark. Holmquist Newbry and her husband, Matt, love vacationing in Hawaii.
As new chairwoman of the Senate's Labor and Commerce Committee, she introduced or shepherded a host of pro-business bills through her committee to Senate floor, where her party dominates. "She is not a shrinking violet," Tefft said.
About business groups' success this year under the Majority Coalition Caucus, Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union Local No. 775, said, "The business community pulls a lot of weight in Olympia, and are not shy about pressing their advantage." Sen. Keiser said, "None of this was accidental. It was planned."
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