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Spin Control

Posts tagged: state senate

Sunday Spin: A seniority gap for Spokane?

OLYMPIA – When the Legislature opens Monday, Spokane will be in a demonstrably different position than recent years.

The years of experience among the area’s delegation will be almost half what it was four years ago, and it will have no one in a top leadership spot in either chamber.

That difference might be most noticeable in the Senate, where a Spokane member has been either the majority leader or minority leader – and sometimes both – since the start of this century. It’s hard to overstate the clout a majority leader has, as gatekeeper and court of last resort, on matters large and small.

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.

Dino Rossi returns

OLYMPIA — Dino Rossi is once again a state senator.

The King County Council voted today to appoint Rossi — the former GOP standard bearer for governor in 2004 and 2008, and for U.S. Senate in 2010 — to an opening in the Senate.

The 5th Legislative District Senate seat became open when Republican Cheryl Pflug accepted a gubernatorial appointment to the Growth Management Hearings Board, just days after filing for the office closed. The district has a pair of candidates, Republican Brad Toft and Democrat Mike Mullet, and the winner of the November election will take office as soon as the results are certified.

But in the meantime, the good people of eastern King County's 5th Lege District would be without a senator.  Rossi's name was among those submitted by the GOP.

Rossi held the position before Pflug.

It's not clear how much senator-ing Rossi will get to do in his new/old seat. The Legislature doesn't start a regular session until January, and doesn't have a special session scheduled.

At least not yet.

WA Lege Day 36: Baxter sworn in

OLYMPIA — Wasting no time after being named to the open 4th District Senate seat Friday evening, Jeff Baxter was sworn in Monday morning in a brief ceremony before the day's session got underway.

With his wife Diane holding the family Bible, Baxter took the oath of office administered by State Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson while other senators from the Spokane delegation as well as State Rep. Matt Shea looked on.

Baxter was given some heavy lifting, drawing assignments to the Ways and Means, Judiciary and Human Services and Corrections committees.

Wa Lege Day 23: Unemployment Insurance vote delayed

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats had to delay a vote on a plan to save businesses from paying millions more in higher unemployment insurance taxes after Republicans said the plan didn't to help the workers who have been off the job so long they are running out of benefits.

Yes. You read that right. Democrats wanted to cut taxes for businesses and Republicans blocked it because it didn't do enough for benefits for unemployed. Although that seems like a Bizarro World scenario from DC Comics, it was really a bit of political maneuvering as the Legislature tries to “beat the clock” on changes to Unemployment Insurance.

The House recently passed a bill that cancels a scheduled increase businesses are facing this year for unemployment taxes and uses some new federal money to add $15 per week per dependent for jobless workers with families. Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for the Legislature to block the rate hike but wants the federal money to be used to expand training programs for unemployed workers, to move them into jobs that have a better chance of keeping them employed in the coming years.

But some social action groups and organized labor back the boost in payments for benefits, so Democrats are understandably verklempt and still debating that section.  That creates a problem because the rate hike has to be cancelled by a law that is passed and signed by Feb. 8, or it goes into effect for the entire year.

 This morning Senate Democrats tried to de-couple the two parts of the bill, with an amendment that cancelled the rate hike but took out the benefits provisions, leaving them to be handled later in the session. That meant a portion of the benefits section which extended unemployment insurance was also removed.

Before they could debate the amendment, however, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, used a parliamentary maneuver to try to block it. “Without this change in law, 70,000 workers will exhaust their unemployment benefits,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, objected, saying there's time to extend the unemployment benefits but the rate hike  needs to be stopped sooner: “The clock is ticking for thousands of businesses in Washington state. Their taxes will go up…We should not be playing politics with cutting unemployment insurance rates to business.”

After Schoesler's motion to block the amendment passed 26-21, a bit more parliamentary maneuvering ensued. Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, moved to defer further consideration. Schoesler moved to act immediately on the original bill. Eide moved to adjourn for the day. Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, D-Moses Lake, objected. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, presiding over the Senate, said there's no debating a motion to adjourn. Schoesler called for a roll call vote on Eide's motion to adjourn. (Motions to adjourn are usually done by voice vote with some of the senators on their way out of the chamber.)

Motion to adjourn passed 25-22. They'll be back tomorrow, when presumably they will try again.

Baumgartner gets plum panels

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans released their list of committee assignments today, and Spokane's freshman Sen. Michael Baumgartner appears to be someone they're putting a lot of stock in.

Baumgartner will start his first day in the Legislature as ranking Republican on the Senate Economic Development, Trade and Innovation Committee. He also gets a spot on Higher Education and Workforce Development and Ways and Means (aka a Colleges and “How get and spend your money”)

Not bad for a freshly minted legislator. But there are some perks that come with knocking off an incumbent from the other party, as Baumgartner did in ousting Chris Marr.

Northeast Washington's Bob Morton is the ranking Republican on the Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee and has a seat on Environment, Water and Energy.

Spokane Valley's Bob McCaslin, the Senate's most senior member who missed much of last session with health problems, is on Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections and Judiciary.

Southeast Washington's Mark Schoesler will serve as Republican floor leader and have seats on Ways and Means, Rules, and Agriculture and Rural Economic Development.

McCaslin tops seniority list

OLYMPIA — The list of state senators and their years of legislative service came out today and, while it’s not unexpected, it does offer a reminder that state Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, is the most senior member of the Senate.

By quite a bit.

McCaslin took office in 1981. The next closest senator, in terms of seniority, is Republican Pam Roach, who came in in 1991. Five Democrats are tied for third after getting elected in 1993.

To see the full list, go inside the blog.

McCaslin: Won’t run for Senate in 2012

State Sen. Bob McCaslin plans to serve out his current term in the Legislature, then quit. Not to just lie around the house and do nothing…he says he wants to devote time to his other elective job, that of Spokane Valley city councilman.

He told S-R colleague Nina Culver Tuesday he’s not planning on stepping away from the council position.

McCaslin told Culver he thought about resigning the Senate seat earlier this year when he had heart problems that knocked him out of Olympia for much of the session, but decided not to. That cogitating may have been the start of the rumor that he was going to step down and trigger a series of domino-style openings and appointments.

Marr gets his first opponent for reelection

State Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, will have a challenger in the November election.

Republican Michael J. Baumgartner, 34, filed paperwork last week with the state Public Disclosure Commission indicating that he will run against Marr for the senate seat representing the Sixth Legislative District, one of the most competitive districts in the state.

The competitive nature of the district attracts a lot of money, and Marr has a head start in fundraising. As of this week, Marr reports having raised about $180,000 for this year’s campaign.

Reached Monday evening, Baumgartner confirmed his run and portions of his resume. This is his first run for office. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an employee of the U.S. State Department. He’s a graduate of Pullman High School and Washington State University and holds a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard University.

Baumgartner said that in Iraq he worked closely with Ryan Crocker, the Spokane Valley resident who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Photos of Baumgartner in Afghanistan can be found at, a GOP blog.

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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.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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