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Senate Majority Coalition: Bipartisanship is working

The Republican-dominated leadership of the Senate celebrates its one-year anniversary. But bipartisanship doesn't look easy.
Rodney Tom's decision "floored" supporters.

Rodney Tom's decision "floored" supporters. Photo: John Stang

Washington State Capitol

Washington State Capitol Washington State House Democrats

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville

Washington's Senate Majority Coalition held a press conference Tuesday to celebrate the first anniversary of its own existence, which the group's leaders hailed as a breakthrough in bipartisanship. 

While the Its leaders talked in some detail about the coalition's highlights from the past year, the news emerging from that discussion was that the Republican-dominated coalition and Democrats have radically different estimates on the cost of a key element of Gov. Jay Inslee's climate-action plan.

The difference is over how much a Washington driver will pay in increased gasoline prices if the state pushes for more use of low-carbon fuel will likely. The coalition says the increased cost would be 60 cents per gallon. Environmentalists  say the increase would be close to zero.

The coalition leaders cited an estimate by the Washington Trucking Association, which opposes Gov. Jay Inslee's wish to install a low-carbon fuel standard as part of his combating-climate-change agenda. Meanwhile, the environmental organization Climate Solutions hosted a briefing last Friday in Seattle on how low carbon fuels have worked out in California since 2011 and British Columbia since 2010. Experts said low-carbon standards for fuel had little effect on prices in either place. 

The bottom line: Inslee and the Majority Coalition Caucus will likely have a new financial issue to clash over in the 2014 legislative session, which begins Jan.13.

The majority coalition leaders expressed considerable pride Tuesday about the first year of the alliance, which has taken away what had been Democrats' total control of state government. On Dec. 10, 2012, Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, switched sides to turn a 26-23 Democratic majority in the Senate into a split between a dominant 23-Republican-two-Democrat majority caucus and 24 minority Democrats. Tom was named leader of the majority coalition. Sheldon was elected president pro tempore of the Senate.

To its supporters, the majority coalition has been a highly successful bipartisan approach that brings constructive change to statehouse politics. To its opponents, the coalition is essentially Republican caucus aided by two defecting Democrats.

"We are now a permanent, stable entity,” Tom said.

"A year ago, people were skeptical and underestimated our coalition," said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup.

"The public didn't think (we) were too radical. They rewarded us with an additional member,” said Republican Caucus Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, referring to a November special election. Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, unseated  recently appointed Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, in a race in which the pair spent a total of $3 million with most coming from outside their district. Angel's win bumps the majority coalition’s advantage to 26-23, which faces a 55-43 Democratic majority in the House.

Tom, Schoesler and other majority coalition leaders said their alliance enabled Washington's government to improve spending on basic education, make education a bigger percentage of the state budget, and created $1 billion in savings for Washington residents in government spending — while passing a state budget without raising taxes. The coalition has had strict caucus discipline on all major votes, preventing its moderates from crossing the aisle to join Democrats on some issues. Those included a measure that would have allowed high school graduates who are children of illegal immigrants to apply for state college aid and a proposal to require companies providing maternity insurance to also provide abortion coverage.

However, the 2013 legislative session was marked by deadlocks and bills being taken hostage by both parties. The Legislature went 57 days beyond the regular session and came within roughly 60 hours of closing down much of the state government on July 1 because the House Democrats and Senate coalition could not agree on the 2013-2015 state operating budget until the last minute. "I think the reason that we went into a special session is that no one thought we (the coalition) would last, and they (the Democrats) tried to out-wait us," Tom said.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Yeah right. The US legislative branch is just as bipartisan: far right on one side, far left on the other side. Works great (not).

The only thing we're learning from this Rodney Tom scandal is how craven politicians can be in misrepresenting "bipartisanship."

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Two problems with the Senate Republican propaganda: 1) they aren't 'bipartisan' and 2) it's not 'working.'

On the 'bipartisan' label, no one who knows anything about politics considers Tim Sheldon or Rodney Tom a Democrat, regardless of how they label themselves. If you took the voting record of each legislator in Olympia and put them on scorecards without any identifying info and/or party affiliation and asked people to put a party label on them based on the votes, there's no way in hell anyone would ever put Tim Sheldon on the Democratic pile and it's very unlikely Rodney Tom would end up there either.

As far as bipartisanship 'working' is concerned, that might be true if you're looking at the inside baseball aspects of the political game (bills and agendas blocked), but certainly not in what's being accomplished.

As far as picking up an additional seat in the Senate, that's completely irrelevant. The 26LD has been a swing district for years, and Jan Angel had a far superior name recognition advantage going into that election. I doubt many of the voters between Gig Harbor and Bremerton - or in any other district - make their voting decisions in a specific race based on which caucus controls a chamber of the Legislature. That race was many things, but not a mandate on Republican control of the state Senate.

Posted Fri, Dec 13, 1:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes indeedie, the senate Majority Coalition is bi-partisan. Bi-partisan, as in comprising both Democrats and Republicans. That must mean they passed some Democrat bills too, right? Some Democrat priority bills sent over from the Democrat house.

But last time I checked, I couldn't find any; all I could find were Republican bills. Maybe there's a Majority Coalition apologist out there who could explain what I'm missing -- how the majority coalition can be "bi-partisan" but yield only partisan results.

Posted Fri, Dec 13, 4:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Don't worry, "progressive." The fix is in on higher car tabs in King County, and a gas tax increase. When it comes to sticking it to the middle class, both parties in this state are strongly aligned.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 16, 4:38 a.m. Inappropriate

define "working"

salmonjim

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