OLYMPIA -- Seattle Sen. Ed Murray, who spearheaded the fight for same-sex marriage and ran the Senate's budget writing committee this year, will move up to leading the Democrats in that chamber next year.
Murray was elected Senate majority leader Tuesday by the members of the Democratic caucus. There was no other candidate for the job, and he was elected by acclimation, a statement from the caucus said. He replaces Sen. Lisa Brown of Spokane, who retires at the end of this year.
Just how big of a majority Murray will lead remains in doubt. Early in the day Tuesday, Democrats had a 27-22 edge, counting a race in Vancouver's 17th District in which Democrat Tim Probst led incumbent Republican Don Benton by 16 votes. But Benton pulled ahead in Tuesday afternoon's count by 65 votes, and if that holds, the Democratic lead would be down to 26-23.
Two of the Senate's more conservative Democrats, Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom, have voted with Republicans in the past on fiscal and budget issues. They have said they'd like some bipartisan arrangement where the parties would share the power of leadership and committee positions, and if Benton wins, their two votes could be decisive if all 23 Republicans went along.
Early last year, Murray took the lead on crafting and advocating for a law that would allow. same-sex couples to marry, rather than settling for domestic partnerships. He became the prime sponsor of the bill that eventually passed both houses, was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire and was challenged by opponents who placed it on the ballot as Referendum 74. That measure passed in last week's election.
Murray is the first openly gay cucus leader in state history and the only openly gay state Senate leader currently serving in the nation, Senate Democratic staffers said.
As chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee for the last two years, Murray struggled with a budget that faced constant problems of not having enough expected revenue to meet scheduled costs. The 2011-13, biennial budget received bipartisan support in the Senate.