OLYMPIA -- Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville area wheat farmer, was named leader of the state Senate's Republican Caucus Wednesday.
Schoesler, 55, has served 20 years in the Legislature, was elected by other Republicans to take the place of Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla, who stepped down from the top caucus spot this fall. Sen. Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee was elected caucus chairwoman, the number two leadership spot.
An astute parliamentarian, Schoesler managed debates as floor leader in the previous session and served as part of the GOP's budget negotiating team. As the caucus leader, he becomes one of the "four corners" -- the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate, the minority leader in the House and the House speaker -- who are key to meetings with the governor when issues deadlock. He also becomes the chief spokesman for the Republican caucus.
He could wield more power than usual in the coming session because Democrats have a thin 26-23 majority in the chamber, and so two or more defections of any Democrats on any issue would give Republicans a majority if Schoesler can hold the caucus together as a block. Two of the most conservative Democrats have also talked about joining Republicans for an organizational vote on the first day that would create a coalition leadership.