OLYMPIA – There are two relatively famous quotes that come to mind as the Legislature rumbles toward opening day Monday.
One is the standard axiom that no man’s life, liberty or property is safe while the Legislature is in session. That line has probably been uttered in every state capital since it was written down by Gideon Tucker in 1866.
It may be no more and no less true this year in Olympia, where a 60-day session will revolve around the state’s budget woes, and possibly devolve because of them.
Last Wednesday, at the annual pre-session preview, leaders of both parties in both houses said how much they look forward to working with each other and how important it will be to put partisan differences aside for the good of the good people. That sounded pretty impressive to an observer new to the fray, until some more-experienced hands noted that they say the same thing every year, a few days before the session starts. The comity lasts, at best, into the first week.
The effort to make nice was already starting to unravel at the preview, as Republicans couldn’t resist discussing the state’s budget situation with a few “we told you so’s.” Asked to name the theme song for the upcoming session – an annual rite that some legislators allegedly discuss in depth with their more musically attuned staffers – Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, of Walla Walla, went through several titles before settling on Taylor Swift’s “Should’ve Said No.”
At least he didn’t go with one of his other finalists: “Take This Job and Shove It.”
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, of Chehalis, was a bit edgier, suggesting Muse’s “Uprising,” which has lyrics that may well describe the hopes of a party out of power: “Rise up and take the power back/It’s time that the fat cats had a heart attack … they will not force us … we will be victorious.”
Leaving aside the question of which party represents the fat cats (each party will say the other, and offer justification), Republicans clearly will fight being forced to accept blame for the state’s fiscal problems; with distinct minorities in both houses, they can deflect any responsibility for the eventual cuts that will be made. True, they may suggest deeper cuts that won’t pass, but they don’t have to vote for the cuts that will.
Democrats were quick to point out that the recession is a national and nonpartisan affair, shared by most states. “Our problem is not a Democratic problem, unless you want to say Idaho’s problem is a Republican problem,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, of Spokane.
Of course House members are always a bit edgier in an even-numbered year, when they all have to run for re-election, compared with only half the Senate. Those elections may be 10 months down the road, but the ammunition for all those negative ads will be gathered over the next 10 weeks in Olympia.
This takes us to the second quote, which has fairly nonpolitical origins but comes to mind anyway. Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes had a description of the natural state of man that may apply well to the upcoming session:
Nasty. Brutish. And short.