More changes for Seattle delegation as Sharon Nelson takes Senate post

Sen. Sharon Nelson Credit: John Stang

The Washington Senate Democratic Caucus elected Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, as its new minority leader Wednesday. That makes her the chief of a 23-member caucus that will be dominated by a 24-Republican-two-Democrat Majority Coalition Caucus beginning in January.

“I will do everything in my power to reach across the aisle whenever possible in order to find solutions to anything from budget deficits to fully funding education,” Nelson said in a press release. “But I think being a good leader — especially of a minority party — means you need to be both tough and fair.”

She has a chance to become Senate majority leader in 2015 if the Democrats pick up two Senate seats in swing districts in the 2014 elections.

Nelson and Sen. James Hargrove, D- Hoquiam, shared the minority Senate Democrats leadership in budget talks with the majority coalition earlier this year. She was appointed to the Washington House in 2007 and was elected in 2008. She was elected to the Senate in 2010 and is finishing her first term in the upper chamber. She represents the 34th Legislative District, which includes Vashon and Maury islands, West Seattle, Burien and much of North Highline.

She is a former banker and was chief of staff to Dow Constantine, when he was a King County Council member. Also, Nelson helped lead the fight against gravel mining on Maury Island in 2010.

The Democratic caucus elected Nelson to replace outgoing Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who becomes Seattle's mayor in January. Murray has already stepped down as minority caucus leader. On Tuesday, he turned in his resignation from the Senate, which goes into effect on Dec. 31. Murray represents the 43rd District, which is essentially Capitol Hill, the University District and Wallingford.

The 43rd District’s Democrats’ precinct officers will make their recommendations on replacing Murray to the county Democratic Party, which will make three recommendations to the King County Council. The replacement must be of the same party as the departing legislator. Murray's resignation as senator triggered the process.

State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, is interested in the Senate seat and is considered a slam dunk for the appointment.

If Pedersen moves to the Senate, three people have voiced an interest in his House seat — Brady Walkinshaw of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Democrats' 43rd District chairman Scott Forbes, and Cristina Gonzalez of Seattle's Families and Education Levy Oversight Committee. The three spoke to precinct officers Tuesday. The precinct officers will vote on their recommendations on Dec.3.

The 43rd District's other state representative is Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp, who crushed Socialist Kshama Sawant in the last election. But Sawant recently upset incumbent Richard Conlin to take his Seattle City Council seat.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

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