OLYMPIA — Two Democrats will join with 23 Republicans in an effort to control the Senate through a “coalition” majority that will share power on running committees.
But one Democratic senator said the remaining 24 members of his caucus may refuse to participate in the plan, even if it means turning down committee chairmanships.
In a maneuver that’s been rumored for several weeks, two Democrats who last year joined Republicans on a key budget vote, said today they will vote with the GOP caucus on organizing the Senate next month.
With the support of Tim Sheldon of Potlach and Rodney Tom of Bellevue, the 23 Republicans in the Senate would have the 25 votes needed for a majority that decides leadership positions on the first day of the session.
Tom would be elected majority leader and Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, would be the Republican leader, members of the coalition said in a morning press conference.
“We want to do something different than the other Washington,” Schoesler said, referring to what he called gridlock in the nation’s capital . “Committee chairs will represent all of Washington…who will put politics aside.”
The coalition would focus on increasing jobs, education and the budget, issues on which they believe they can collect more than the bare majority of 25 votes.
Under the plan, Republicans would lead six committees, Democrats would lead six, and three would have a co-chairman from each party.
But Republicans would control what are arguably the most powerful committees, Ways and Means which writes the budget, and Early Learning/K-12 Education, which will wrestle with ways to meet a state Supreme Court mandated to improve public schools.
“It’s supposed to be a power-share rather than a power-grab,” Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said.
Coalition members would oppose any increase in taxes, even to find the more than $1 billion that could be needed to satisfy the court mandate on schools. Tom said Governor-elect Jay Inslee, a Democrat, campaigned on finding money for education without raising taxes.
Members of both parties agree that the proposal is unprecedented in the history of the state Senate. But Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, disputed the description of the plan as a bipartisan coalition: “A minority plus two is not really a coalition.”
Democratic members other than Sheldon and Tom will have to meet and discuss the coalition’s proposal, Frockt said. The initial reaction was “not great enthusiasm.”
Republicans are presenting the proposal as take-it or leave-it, and it’s possible Democrats will refuse to appoint chairmen or co-chairmen to the committees being offered, Frockt said. But he said that the management of the Senate by the 25 members of the coalition was not necessarily a recipe for gridlock.
“We’re going to have to figure out a way to govern,” Frockt said. “This is politics: 25 votes.”