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Senate Democrats propose leadership changes

OLYMPIA -- Facing one of the narrowest majorities in years, Senate Democrats proposed a new committee one one of the state's thorniest problems with shared leadership responsibilities and a veteran with a record of interparty skills for the budget-writing panel.

They also suggested the "president pro tem" job -- which is sometimes ceremonial but other times decisive -- to go to a conservative "road kill" Democrat who was calling for coalition leadershlip in the chamber.

At their pre-session meeting, Democrats proposed a new Select Committee on Education Finance and Results, which would look for ways the state could meet the demand from the state Supreme Court that it do a better job living up to its constitutional requirements to make public education its top priority. It proposed Sen. David Froct of Seattle to be the Democratic co-chairman, and invited the Republicans to name their own co-chairman.

They also named Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, to fill the slot left empty when former Chairman Ed Murray of Seattle was named Majority Leader. A 20-year veteran of the Senate, Hargrove is "known for his ability to work across party lines," Democrats said.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, was proposed for president pro tem, a job that involves presiding over the chamber whenever Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is absent.

Sheldon and Sen. Rodney Tom of Bellevue, who broke with Democrats earlier this year during budget discussions and backed an alternative spending plan by minority Republicans, this month proposed the Senate be run through a power-sharing arrangement between the two parties. Their two votes could be crucial because Democrats could hold a 26-23 majority in the chamber, and their defection on organizational matters would give Republicans the majority if that caucus votes as a block.

The partisan split will be determined by the close race in Vancouver's 17th District, where incumbent Republican Don Benton holds an 82-vote lead over Democratic state Rep. Tim Probst. Counties report their final vote counts today, and that race is on track for an automatic recount.

Tom is being proposed for chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee.  

Spokane's newly elected Democratic Sen. Andy Billig is being proposed for majority whip and vice chairman of the Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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