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Senate majority leader looks ahead to tough session

Mon., Jan. 11, 2010

Lisa Brown’s office, just off the floor of the Washington state Senate chambers, was abuzz last week with legislators, staff and people who needed a few minutes to talk about something that would be coming up during the session that starts today. The Spokane Democrat has served 17 years in the Legislature, 13 of them in the state Senate. This session, Brown’s fifth as Senate majority leader, is short on days and long on problems: Even-numbered years are limited to 60 days, and Washington’s budget is an estimated $2.6 billion out of balance. The Spokesman-Review sat down with Brown last week. Click links in the questions to listen to audio.

Q.You’ve been here every year since 1993. How have things changed?

A.I went from my first term in the Legislature being completely insignificant because there were so many Democrats and I was the one with least seniority, to my second term in the Legislature being completely insignificant because I was in the minority. … Since I moved to the Senate, the majorities are closer and it’s swung back and forth a few times, so I see more collegiality and working across the aisle. … One other thing about how things have changed: the Internet and technology. We get so much more correspondence because of the e-mail.

Q.Do you have a chance to read all that e-mail?

A.Being the (majority) leader, I get things from all over the state. My staff makes sure I personally see everything from my constituents … and address as much of that personally as I have time to do.

Q.Compared to other short sessions, how’s this one going to shape up?

A.This is going to be about as tough a session as we’ve ever experienced because of how big the budget challenge is, and the fact that it comes on top of a year where we already had a big budget challenge.

Q.Where do you disagree most with the governor’s (first draft) budget?

A.My members and I can’t accept … the complete elimination of the Basic Health Plan and the General Assistance Unemployable Program, and the elimination of student financial aid. … There’s a fairly long list of things that we think would be really counter to our values … so we’re going to look for alternatives.

Q.Where do you think you’re most in agreement with that budget?

A.It’s hard to look at it without seeing the cuts. … (Gregoire) didn’t pick winners and losers. Every area of government is equally negatively affected. They didn’t do gimmicks, either.

Q.At the end of this session, what will Spokane and Eastern Washington be most happy about?

A.I believe we are going to stay on track with the expansion of dental and medical education on the Riverpoint campus and the building of that campus.

Q.What are they going to be most unhappy about?

A.I think they’ll be most unhappy about the cuts that remain in the budget. We’re not going to be able to restore all those cuts.

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