Two fiscally conservative Democrats announced today they are joining forces with Republicans to create a new “majority coalition caucus” that will control the Washington state Senate.
Democratic Senators Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch stood with five Senate Republican leaders at a press conference Monday to explain how the new caucus will govern. Tom would serve as the new Senate majority leader, and Sheldon would be president pro tempore.
The caucus has proposed splitting power by allowing Democrats and Republicans to each chair six committees, and co-chair three committees.
The powerful budget-writing Ways and Means committee would be chaired by Republican Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond under the proposal. The K-12 education committee would be led by Republican Sen. Steve Litzow of Mercer Island.
Tom said he believes more Democrats will join the caucus, which has pledged to govern under a set of “principles” that include creating a sustainable budget, promoting job growth and reforming education.
“The public is not looking for one-party domination,” Tom said. “They are looking for us to get away from politics and start governing.”
Senate Democratic leader Ed Murray released a statement saying that “any majority in the Senate will be an unstable one.” Democrats held a slim 26-23 majority before today’s announcement; the new caucus would hold a 25-24 majority.
“We don’t believe the Republicans’ take-it-or-leave-it plan offers the right way forward. We remain hopeful that Republicans will be open to negotiations to ensure the full functioning of the Senate,” Murray said.
Republican caucus chair Sen. Linda Parlette acknowledged after the press conference that “coalitions are always fragile.”
Parlette said the coalition wanted to be transparent about its intentions before the start of session on Jan. 14 to give other senators an opportunity to sign on.
Senate Republican leader Sen. Mark Schoesler said people don’t want the same partisan gridlock that has paralyzed “the other Washington.”
“This is the sort of cooperation people are hungry for,” Schoesler said.
Both Tom and Sheldon said they do not intend to leave the Democratic party.
Sheldon said the plan will foster collaboration, and he hopes it will encourage lawmakers to finish business during the 105-day session without going into “special session after special session.”
Seattle Democratic Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles blasted the idea that the coalition is bipartisan, saying in a statement that it “takes more than the defection of two conservative Democrats” to create a bipartisan coalition. “Forcing half the chamber to accept a take-it-or-leave-it plan is not the way you foster collaboration, trust or respect,” Kohl-Welles said.
Kohl-Welles said she “fears where [Republicans] would take our state” if they take over the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee. The new committee assignment would replace her as chair with Republican Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake.
Here is the full list of proposed committee chairs. None of the committees would have more than a one-vote margin between Republicans and Democrats. The News Tribune has a good breakdown of what the announcement means for committee leadership.
TVW will re-air the news conference today at 1, 5 and 7 p.m. You can also watch the full half-hour event below.