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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Mike Hewitt

Hewitt steps down as Senate minority leader

Walla Walla Republican Mike Hewitt will not seek another term as Senate minority leader.

Hewitt, who is finishing his 12th year in the Senate and seventh year as the Republican leader, said today he would step down from the leadership post and “focus my energies on the citizens of southeast Washington.”

He said he wants to promote “leadership from the center”. He also mentioned health problems that he suffered during last year's session, when he had an operation to remove a tumor from his thymus.

The Republican caucus will elect it's leadership at a meeting on Nov. 28.

Special Session Day 29: Hewitt in the chambers

OLYMPIA — Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt is back in the Senate wings today, less than a week after having surgery to remove a tumor from his chest.

The procedure to remove a tumor from his thymus, a small organ in the chest,  was similar to open-heart surgery in that surgeons had to open his rip cage then tie it back together.

All things considered, the Walla Walla Republican is looking pretty good. A little pale and somewhat thinner, to be sure, but still. His wife Cory is nearby, with a pillow, just in case he has to sneeze or cough. Either one is terribly painful, he said.

He's available for votes, should any be taken.

Last week, during debates over when to schedule budgets and reform bills, Senate Republicans were wary of any move to push legislation to the floor, saying the Democrats could take advantage of Hewitt's absence and generate a 24-24 split over contentious issues that would be settled by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat. But Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane had said if Republicans got to a point where they needed a 25th vote, she'd cast it for Hewitt.

Hewitt said he'd heard about the offer, but he wasn't going to let that happen.

Now the Senate faces another numeric challenge. Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, is absent. Because he's one of three Democrats who gave Senate Republicans the 25-24 edge on the budget, a budget vote could again stack up as 24-24.

New GOP budget: ‘Game changer’ or ‘waste of time’?

OLYMPIA – For the first three days of the special session, everything involving the state’s troubled budget was done behind the closed doors. That went by the wayside Thursday.
Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies released a new budget proposal at a morning press conference that they said moved closer to Democratic plans to spend more on public schools and higher education. They used terms like fabulous, honest and “game-changer” to describe their new plan.
 But they hadn’t produced it in closed-door negotiations among budget writers just an hour before, and Gov. Chris Gregoire accused them of “wasting time” by unveiling a new budget proposal that has little chance of making it through the Legislature.
“This will not get us out of town,” a clearly angry Gregoire said. “The antics of today do not advance the ball.”
  

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

New state budget pushed into the fray

OLYMPIA — In an effort to break a budget logjam, Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies unveiled a new  spending plan Thursday morning that would spend more on public schools and state colleges.

It also offers more money for child care for working families and has no new taxes. But it does skip a $140 million payment to state pension systems in exchange for other changes to pension plans that would save money in the long run. 

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called it a “compromise approach” to the differences between the budget passed in a parliamentary takeover two weeks ago in the Senate and a significantly different plan passed by House Democrats on the last day of the regular session.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said it was a better plan than the one he joined with Republicans to pass. “It's a budget that can bring the special session to a close.”

Senate Democratic leaders, who only saw the proposal at the same time Republicans released it at a morning news conference, said it has “some very good movement,” because it restores money for public schools and higher education that Republicans proposed cutting two weeks ago.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she was still concerned that the proposal cuts money for the Disability Lifeline, but “I feel great about the moves that were made on the spending side.”

The public release of a new budget proposal, signaled movement over talks which have essentially been at a stalemate for two weeks. But potential roadblocks quickly surfaced.

Democrats said they still have concerns about skipping the $140 million pension payment, because the cost of that grows over time. Republicans acknowledge the long-term cost of that is about $400 million over 25 years, but they estimate the savings from ending early retirements for new state employees would be $2 billion over that period, and that money could be used to shore up the pension funds.

The Legislature has skipped or delayed pension payments in six times since 2001, in budgets written by Democrats and Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire had asked legislative leaders to come  up with a budget that doesn't skip the pension payment, which Republicans favor but Democrats oppose, and also doesn't delay a $330 million payment to schools by shifting it from the end of this biennium to the first day of the next. Democrats favor that approach but Republicans call it unsustainable budgeting.

The new budget proposal doesn't do that. It also calls for the state to spend $780,000 to set up 10 charter schools, while cutting $1.5 million Democrats proposed for “collaborative schools”.  Charter schools, which can be set up by a public school and parents to try new methods and avoid some state requirements, would need new legislation to be passed along with the budget. Collaborative schools, a plan to pair the Education Departments of the state's colleges with troubled schools, has already passed.

Sen. Rodney Tom, another of the three Democrats who voted with Republicans on their Senate budget, is a strong supporter of charter schools. The budget would pay for 10 next year, in “persistently failing schools.” But Gregoire and other Democrats regard charter schools as taking money from the existing schools; the governor proposed the collaborative school program as a way to bring innovation into classrooms without setting up charter schools.

Special Session seems certain

OLYMPIA — Republican leaders of the Legislature said a special session is now a certainty, with the only real question when it will start.

“I don't believe therre's any way for us to get done. There's no physical way,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said after a meeting of all four legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire that was designed to “find a path out of here” on the state's general fund budget.

So, did they find a path? No path, no blueprint,  he said.

Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree on the amount of money they will have to spend, let alone how it will be spent. Republicans said they are holding firm to their belief that the state should not delay by one day a payment of $330 million to the school districts, an accounting maneuver that shifts that amount into the next biennium and frees up money for more programs.

“We're still firm on sticking with our principles,” Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said.

Today is day 59 of the 60-day session, so the regular session can go no longer than midnight tomorrow. A tentative agreement on a budget would only be one step in the process. That budget would have to be printed, introduced in one of the houses as an amendment to one of the two budgets that have already passed. A budget written by House Democrats is currently on hold in the Senate, and a budget written by minority Republicans which picked up support from three Democrats and passed early Saturday morning after a parliamentary maneuver, is now in the House.

One option is to start the special session on Friday to keep any budget talks going. Hewitt and Zarelli said it would be better to start it next Monday or Tuesday, giving most legislators the weekend with their families and a “cooling off period.”

“Some folks need a few days to ponder,” Zarelli said.

Before leaving on Thursday the Legislature might pass a separate Transportation Budget that covers road, bridge and ferry projects. But it probably will not pass a Capital Budget, which covers other big construction projects like the construction of the medical sciences building in Spokane.

“The capital budget and the operating budget go together,” Zarelli said.

Fund ed first, House Republicans say

OLYMPIA – House Republicans, who say they are fed up with the slow pace of budgeting process in a session where that was supposed to be the main thing the Legislature tackled, argued Thursday for a new approach.

The state should set aside what it wants to spend on K-12 education first, then figure out what’s left for other state programs. They call it “Fund Education First” and say it’s in line with both the state Constitution’s declaration that education in the state's public schools is the state’s “paramount duty” and a recent state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature must do more to meet that duty.

“This is not a gimmick. It’s a workable solution,” said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would make that change in budgeting.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

No time for ‘social issues’ in 2012 Legislature?

OLYMPIA — Republicans pushed back Thursday against Gov. Chris Gregoire's call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the upcoming legislative session.

But Gregoire made clear she would stick to her guns on the issue.

One of the main candidates to replace Gregoire said the Legislature shouldn't make the decision on its own. Instead, state Attorney General Rob McKenna said, it should send any proposal it passes to the ballot and give voters the final say.

At panel discussion for the top Democratic and Republican leaders sponsored by the Associated Press Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla argued that a short, 60-day session with a major budget hole is not the place for “social reform” that could roil the legislators: We should leave social issues off the agenda,” Hewitt said.

He also questioned whether one of the proponents of same-sex marriage legislation, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, will have time to devote to that bill while serving as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Murray, who is openly gay, is “vested in this personally”, Hewitt said. “I really don't want his attention taken away” from the budget.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis questioned how Democrats could devote time to hearings on same-sex marriage legislation when they won't set aside time for hearings on GOP reform proposals: “Apparently we have time to hear certain bills but not other bills.”

Democratic leaders said it's an issue the Legislature should take up this session. “This is the right time to move forward with marriage equality,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.

In a separate session, Gregoire agreed that fixing the budget is “priority one.” But there's time to debate her proposal on same-sex marriage, too, she insisted: “What will history say when we say 'Sorry, but we had a budget to pass so we continued to discriminate.' In tough times, we stand up to the challenge.”

And legislators can find time to do more than just the budget, she added. “I multi-task; they multi-task. It can be discussed thoughtfully and deliberately.”

In a later interview, McKenna said that while same-sex marriage may be an important issue for some legislators and Gregoire, he didn't know if a short session with a deep budget problem is the best time to address it.

“This is an issue for the voters to decide. I hope if they do pass it, they send it to the voters,” McKenna said. Such a requirement might mean the legislative maneuvering and debate over such a contentious issue will take less time, because voters would have the final say, he added.

Worth a look: Initiatives that are paid for

Although the Legislature is on break, new legislation continues to pop up. Among ideas is a proposed constitutional amendment from Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester and other Republicans like Mark Schoesler of Ritzville and Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla.

It requires any initiative that starts a new program or expands an existing one to identify a way to pay for it.

In the past, voters have approved initiatives to give public school teachers regular raises or shrink classroom sizes or, just last month, require more training for home care providers. But the initiatives didn’t come up with new sources of money to cover those changes. Legislators often suspend those directives in tough budget times.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said last week she hadn’t read the proposal, but might support it. The Legislature has to identify a money source when it comes up with a new program, she said. When voters pass legislation at the ballot box, maybe they should, too.
  

Spec Sess Day 1: Legislature convenes

OLYMPIA — With protesters outside on the Capitol steps and more expected later today, the Legislature started its special session shortly after noon with limited pomp and circumstance. The Legislature is generally without its army of teen-aged pages for this emergency budget session. The pages often form a color guard to bring the U.S. and state flags into the chamber. The Senate improvised today by having Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, as the flag bearers. (above) Once flags were firmly in place, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s official call was read for the emergency session to address the projected budget shortfall, and other matters as legislators see fit. The Senate also had a few housekeeping details to attend, including the swearing-in of two recently appointed members. There will be another such ceremony on Tuesday for Mike Padden, who won the Nov. 8 election in Spokane’s 4th District, but doesn’t take office until the election results are certified Tuesday afternoon.

Sunday Spin: Adventures in redistricting

OLYMPIA – Tuesday is Election Day 2011 – or what passes for one in a state that mailed out its ballots two weeks ago and will spend more than two weeks counting the returns – but it could be a key day for Election Days 2012-21.
That morning is the next meeting of the state Redistricting Commission, which is weighing two proposals to redraw congressional and legislative lines in Washington…

To read the rest of this post, go inside the blog.
  

Split the state? Dissolve some counties? Not likely

OLYMPIA – The east-west split in Washington is probably never as interesting as in the early weeks of a legislative session, when hope springs eternal in the breasts of legislators with novel if not always practical ideas.

This period sometimes births proposals from Eastern Washington solons to divide the state along the crest of the Cascades and divest the right-thinking folks on the dry side from those people whose repeated exposure to rain, Microsoft money and ferry commutes makes them terrible spend thrifts intent on saddling every business owner, farmer and local official with a mountain of red tape and an army of bureaucrats. The proposal to set up this 51st state, possibly named Lincoln or Columbia, generally gets, at most, a hearing where some west siders have a chance to suggest good riddance to eastern brethren.

This year a small group of Western Washington legislators propose a remedy for an imbalance they see against their side of the mountains: Counties that receive far more in state money than they send to Olympia in taxes could be dissolved and attached to a neighboring county or divvied up among several….

To read the rest of this item, click to go inside the blog

Gregoire says be bold; legislators ask for details

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OLYMPIA – Amid the tension of a state budget some $4.6 billion out of whack and proposals to cut programs for some of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable, Gov. Chris Gregoire tried to sound upbeat Tuesday with a promise Washington would come out of the recession stronger if they can just “be bold.”

“We will rebound and we will provide a brighter future for our children,” Gregoire told the Legislature in her annual state of the state speech.

Republican response ranged from cautiously positive to slightly caustic. If Gregoire is serious about some of her reforms for state salaries, unemployment insurance and workers compensation, they're on board, Republican leaders said; if she’d made some of these changes years ago like they wanted, the state would be in better shape right now.

“The governor has switched parties,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.
  

McCaslin retiring from state Senate

OLYMPIA — Sen. Bob McCaslin, the most senior member of the Legislature who has represented Spokane Valley's 4th District for 30 years, is retiring because of health problems.

In a prepared statement, McCaslin said health problems have resurfaced that have changed his plans to serve out his term, which ends in 2012.

“I’ve always tried not to let the years slow me down or affect my ability to serve the people of the 4th District, but as my doctors have made clear to me, that can no longer be the case,”

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, confirmed that McCaslin called him this morning to say he would not be returning to Olympia for the upcoming session, which starts Monday.

“I'm going to miss him,” Hewitt said, adding that McCaslin served as both the institutional memory of the Senate Republican caucus and a calming influence during contentious times.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she would miss McCaslin's wit and knowledge of legislative procedure: “He was a real gentleman on the floor, and really humorous.” Although a conservative from a conservative district, McCaslin's work with Sen. Jeanne Kohl Wells, a Seattle liberal, on medical marijuana research was an example of how people who disagree 90 percent of the time can find common ground, she said.

Brown recalled when she was first elected to the House and went to meet McCaslin, who was already a senior member of the delegation. “He shook my hand for the first time, looked at me and said 'I know you're a Democrat, but you've got to get a stronger  handshake.'”

McCaslin, 84, missed much of the 2010 legislative session because of heart surgery in February. He returned to Spokane for treatment, and in March resumed work at his other elective position on the Spokane Valley City Council.

He was first elected to the state Senate in 1980, and has easily dispatched Democratic challengers every four years since. He ran against then-Mayor Rich Munson and won a seat on the Valley Council in 2009.

His retirement means Republican precinct committee officers in the 4th Legislative District will choose up to three nominees as a replacement. Spokane County Commissioners would then select one of the nominees by a majority vote. If the commission were to deadlock, the seat would be filled by the governor.

State Rep. Larry Crouse, the Valley's senior House member, said McCaslin had talked about retiring after last November's election, but had been feeling well enough in the fall that he had made plans to return for the 2011 session. At dinner on Monday night, Crouse said, McCaslin told him his doctor advised him not to do that.

Crouse said he was not going to apply for the Senate seat, because it would involve trading his seniority in the House, where he is among the most senior members, for freshman status in the Senate. “It's the same work, the same hours, the same pay. I just feel I could do more for the district in the House.”

Four or five Republicans may seek the appointment, Crouse said, including state Rep. Matt Shea.

Lege leaders: Tax hikes, probably no; Basic Health, Lifeline, maybe yes

OLYMPIA — There's no chance the Legislature will ask voters for a tax increase for anything — except maybe for highways and other transportation projects — legislative leaders said today.

Appearing at forum to preview the upcoming legislative session, the Democratic and Republican leaders of both chambers agreed the Legislature will have to cut billions from the state's general fund spending rather than trying to raise taxes to fill some of the gap between expected revenues and the cost of state programs and salaries.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said there was a chance the Legislature could put a “transportation package” on the November ballot for major road and bridge projects. “Any details would obviously have to be worked out. I'd like to see the North-South Corricer as part of the projects.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, was doubtful:  “The state doesn't have any money. It's going to be difficult to get anything past the voters.”

But Republican and Democratic leaders balked at Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to eliminate two major programs for the poor, state-funded Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline for people who are unable to work because they are disabled.

“I don't think it's in our best interest to eliminate this,” House Speaker Frank Chopp said.

Hewitt agreed, saying the programs might needs some revisions, a drop in benefit payments or tighter limits on eligibility, but were still needed to “catch the people at the bottom.” The state might consider making everyone reapply for the programs, as it did in 2003, which resulted in a 30 percent drop in participation because some recipients were no longer eligible.

“We're going to look for an alternative to completely eliminating them,” Brown said.

Brown says seat Harper, fix campaign law

OLYMPIA — The winner of a disputed Senate election in Snohomish County should take his seat despite questions over how he won the primary, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt suggested Monday that Democrat Nick Harper not be seated until a court case over the primary is resolved, and offered not to vote as long as Harper was on the sidelines.

But that’s not fair to Harper, who wasn’t involved in the independent campaign fined by the state Public Disclosure Commission, or the voters of his district, Brown said. She wants the Legislature to consider changes to campaign financing laws that could head off such tactics in the future.

Read more about the controversy inside the blog…

 

GOP to gov: Get agreement before spec session

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans want Gov. Chris Gregoire to call the Legislature’s leadership and budget heads together before any special session and get an agreement on what should be cut.

In a letter today to Gregoire, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt and GOP Senate Budget Committee Leader Joe Zarelli, said a pre-session meeting that would “develop a general framework for possible cost savings before the full Legislature is brought back to Olympia” would be extremely valuable.

Such an agreement could result in changes that would help reduce the budgets in the next two biennia, which also are projected to be in the red, and would increase the likelihood of a “short and efficient session.”

Gregoire’s office said she’s travelling today and hasn’t had a chance yet to see it. But the governor has repeatedly said she wouldn’t call the Lege back unless she could get an agreement that they’d get in, get business done and get out in a day or two. So Hewitt and Zarelli’s letter seems in line with that.

The Republican leaders couldn’t resist a little “we told ya so” in their letter. The state’s budget problem is a result of assuming the federal government would provide an extra $480 million in higher Medicaid money, and that money is now in doubt as Congress struggles to pass anything that could add to the deficit.

“At the time the budget was written, members of our caucus warned against depending upone one-time moneys and assumed federal payouts to balance the budget. Unfortunately, it appears that our worst fears may be played out over the next few months and our state budget may be plunged into an instant deficit,” they wrote.

Otter trying ‘personal touch’ in snare business

OLYMPIA – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter continues to “court” Washington businesses, sending personal letters to their owners that suggest they should move to the Gem State.
That’s fair, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday, because the Evergreen State makes similar overtures to businesses in other states, including Idaho. She called foul last month when Otter sent out a blanket “love letter” to businesses in the Washington and Oregon that derided the neighboring states for tax increases.
“It is not normal for governors to send a so-called love letter. Governors absolutely do contact businesses in other states,” Gregoire said.
Hitting Washington for tax increases was “a little premature”, she added, because the Legislature hasn’t settled on any yet.
But it’s about to, warned Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla…

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

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