OLYMPIA – While Democrats with huge majorities in both houses fight among themselves over the budget, Republicans have plenty of free time to express confidence the November election will change the math.
Democrats seem intent on helping them out. They’re going to raise taxes, which ranks high on the list of things that get a politician removed from office. They may be right that they have almost no choice in the matter, but the way that they’ve gone about it – holding a quixotic hearing on an income tax, requiring repeated votes on bills tailor-made to wind up in GOP commercials, suspending rules – does little to mitigate the expected damage.
Then there’s the $18,300 per day special session – at least that was the cost before a rush to refuse legislative per diems – that was supposed to be done in seven days.
How’s that working, as Dr. Phil would say. Not so good, with work expected through Tuesday, which would be day nine.
Meeting with reporters last week, Republicans bemoaned the fractured rules and procedures that have marked recent weeks. “I promise we will not operate like this,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla said.
The sentiment was not new. Most Republicans have warned of voters’ wrath at some point in the debate over taxes and spending. In the closing days of the regular session, Hewitt passed out pieces of state Senate notepaper with one word, underlined twice: November.
Asked if he could promise Republicans will repeal all taxes the Democrats might enact, should voters propel them into the majority, Hewitt hedged: “Probably not. We’d have to look at the budget and see where we’re at.”
But they clearly will run against the taxes that get raised. They’ll also denounce the maneuvers used during the session, such as hearings held with little or no public notice, or Friday’s meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee – the panel that decides what to tax and how to spend it, which is the raison d’être of the special session – in one of the few places outside the view of TVW’s cameras. Jason Mercier of the conservative Washington Policy Center keeps track of “ghost” bills filed or scheduled for hearing with no real substance, or heard in committees before they are even introduced, which is not the way the rules say things work around here.
In many years, the eyes of most voters might glaze over at such talk and the political cognoscenti might shrug it off with “rules were made to be broken.” With the Tea Party and various allies gunning for incumbents in general and Democrats in particular, this may not be one of those years.
A poll by KING-TV last week asked 600 people to rate the job the Legislature and governor are doing. For the Lege, 69 percent disapproved, for Chris Gregoire, it was 65 percent. Those numbers track with similar surveys around the country and the low numbers for Congress, so it can’t all be blamed on a bad budget and the need for overtime in Olympia. Any incumbent who takes comfort in that, though, can rationalize almost anything.
The nearly eight months between now and the November election is an eternity in politics. Maybe the economy will improve significantly, and with it the mood of the electorate, allowing Democrats to bask in some of the reflected glow.
Maybe the Republicans’ seemingly justifiable confidence in the spring will prove to be hubris in the fall.
But Democrats would be wise to heed the words of Bette Davis in “All About Eve”: Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a series of bumpy nights.