People who are members of the new Washington Senate caucus call it the “Majority Coalition Caucus." People on the outside are calling it the “Gridlock Caucus.” It has Republicans grinning and Democrats fuming as we head towards the next legislative session in January.
Whatever you call it, the caucus is happening because two conservative Democrats have joined the 23 sitting Senate Republicans, providing a one vote majority in that body of the legislature. Since it’s a majority previously enjoyed by Democrats, they’re not happy.
“It’s silly”, said Democratic Party Chairman Diwght Pelz, “This is partisanship at its worst and its going to lead to a very difficult situation in Olympia.
But Senators Tim Sheldon (D-35th Dist.) and Rodney Tom (D-48th Dist.) who are the keys to the political switch say it’s not about parties or politics, it’s about policy.
“The election season is over” said Tom, “and you’re going to see the big difference between Washington, D.C. and Washington state. We are focused on doing the people’s business and we’re not focused on the next election cycle.”
With big budget problems to solve, a mandate from the State Supreme Court to commit more resources to education and the advent of the Obama Administration’s health care plan, it was already expected this session would be a knock-down, drag-out affair. With this new caucus formed, it’s anybody’s guess how the everyday working of the Senate will be affected, how majority leaders will connect with House Speaker Frank Chopp, and what role incoming Governor Jay Inslee will play in the power struggle.
Members of the new Senate majority plan to split chairmanship of major committees rather than assuming power over all of them. Natural Resources and Parks, Agriculture and Water, Trade and Economic Development. Financial Institutions, Higher Education and Environment and Marine Waters committees will be chaired by Democrats who will hold one vote majorities. The powerful Ways and Means and Health Care Committees, as well as Commerce and Labor, Early Learning and K-12 Education, Government Operations, and Law and Justice Committees, will be chaired by Republicans and they will hold a one vote majority in each. Co-chairs, chosen by each party, will run the Human Services and Corrections, Transportation and Energy and Telecommunications Committees and the membership of those bodies will be evenly split along party lines.
How will it all work?
“It’s unique in that we listened to the voters and we’re actually going to do what they want,” says Senator Tom.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to know who’s on first throughout the session. I think it’s really a recipe for chaos,” said Pelz.