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Senate Democrats propose sharing power

OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats offered a power-sharing agreement to counter last week’s proposal by Republicans and two defecting members of their party. They called for co-leaders for the Senate and co-chairmen for all committees.

But the top Republican and the Democrat the coalition wants to install as Senate majority leader quickly balked. Somebody has to be in charge, Sens. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, said, and they believe they have the votes to make sure it is them.

The counterproposal came from a meeting of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and like last week’s plan by a group calling itself the “coalition majority” it represents a departure from the usual operation of the chamber, where the party with the most members has the upper hand.

Although Democrats hold a 26-23 edge among members, they are offering to let the two parties share leadership for the running of the Senate and each name a chairman for the chamber’s 15 committees. That would give Republicans an equal say on what bills might pass onto the Senate floor, and on scheduling of debates of those bills.

Democrats are making that offer because they can’t count on all 26 of their members to vote for installation of all their committee chairmen and make their caucus leader, Ed Murray of Seattle, the majority leader.  

Last week, Tom and fellow Democrat Tim Sheldon, of Potlatch, said they’d vote with the 23 Republicans to form what they labeled the Majority Coalition Caucus. The group plans to elect Tom as majority leader and Schoesler as the Republican or minority leader. It proposed naming Republican chairmen or chairwomen to six committees with a one-Republican member majority, letting Democrats name six other chairmen on committees where they’d have a one-member majority, and having a member of each party as a co-chairman of three committees equally split between the parties.

Monday’s counter from Democrats would give Republicans more say on the committees, but would mean Murray, not Tom, would share the leadership responsibilities with Schoesler. 

Tom and Schoesler quickly rejected the offer, saying they chose co-chairmen for a few committees with a long history of cooperation. “But to have co-chairs for every committee would be a recipe for gridlock, particularly in areas like education and the operating budget.”

Instead, they hoped Democrats would “accommodate the new majority so a transition can get under way in the weeks before a session begins.”

That may prove difficult, considering Murray earlier in the day sent Tom a letter saying Senate rules don’t currently allow for what the majority coalition is proposing and that the group will have to try to change the rules on the first day of the session to try to make changes.



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