My Crosscut story from Monday (2/15), 'êA whiff of mutiny among Democrats in Olympia,'ê stirred up an Olympia controversy I wasn'êt even aware of. At issue is whether Washington'ês lieutenant governor, who presides over the senate, has the ability to break tie votes in the state senate. I was under the impression that he does have that power, just like the vice president in the U.S. Senate.
But David Ammons, the longtime Associated Press reporter who now works for the Secretary of the State, gently corrected me in the comments section of my story. Ammons is an invaluable fount of institutional memory in this town. Ammons noted that the lieutenant governor can break a tie, but not when a bill is up for final passage. I updated my story to reflect that fact.
Then both Ammons and I received a long email from Brian Dirks, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen'ês communications director. Dirks wanted us both to know that Owen'ês 'êposition is that he CAN vote on final passage, and in fact did just that last year on SB 5433, the local options bill.'ê Here'ês the key portion of Owen'ês ruling from last year, courtesy of Jeff Reading, communications director for the Senate Democrats: 'êThe President [of the Senate] not voting on final passage has been the tradition, but given the opportunity the President believes the issue should be tested.'ê
In his email to Ammons and me, Dirks cites Article II, Section 10 of the Washington state Constitution, which says: 'êWhen presiding, the lieutenant governor shall have the deciding vote in case of an equal division of the senate.'ê Dirks goes on to acknowledge that this conflicts with Section 9 of the Senate Rules which states: 'êWhen a vote of the senate is equally divided, the lieutenant governor, when president, shall have the deciding vote on questions other than the final passage of the bill.'ê But Dirks adds, 'êThe lieutenant governor'ês position is that 'ê¦ the state Constitution supersedes senate rules on this matter.'ê
Ammons still isn'êt convinced. In a email back to Dirks, he notes that the lieutenant governor is not, as the constitution requires, one of the 'êelected'ê members of the senate and notes that Owen'ês name does not appear on the senate 'êroll call.'ê
For his part, Dirks acknowledges that 'êWhile [Owen'ês] position could be subject to challenge before the Supreme Court, no one has previously done so and he does not anticipate that this will occur.'ê