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WA Lege Day 15: Senate majority flexes muscle

OLYMPIA — In the clearest example yet of what it means to have one more member of the Senate's ruling caucus, the Democratic chairman of a key committee was forced to share power with a newly elected Republican.

On 26-23 votes, the Majority Coalition Caucus restructured the Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee, to make Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, the co-chairwoman. She will share control of the committee with Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who was one of the few Democrats who agreed to take a committee chairmanship last year when the mostly Republican coalition took control of the chamber and offered some top spots to minority Democrats. 

Angel, a five-year veteran of the House, beat Democrat Nathan Schlicher last November, in a special election. Her victory gave Senate Republicans 24 seats, and with the two Democrats who helped form the Majority Coalition Caucus, 26 votes to the 23 for the remaining Democrats.

Hobbs, a moderate Democrat, said the change was payback for his support of several bills conservatives in the coalition oppose, including the Reproductive Parity Act, the Dream Act, and cost-of-living adjustments for teachers. Those bills have at least 25 senators who support them, but moderate members of the coalition won't buck their caucus to allow votes on them.

"It's a clear indication their caucus has moved to the right," Hobbs said. He supported Republican efforts to reform workers compensation last year, but said he might not do that again if there was no support for some of the social legislation. Moderates in the majority coalition told him they opposed the change but wouldn't break caucus unity to vote against it, he added. 

Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette, of Wenatchee, insisted the move was merely an effort to take advantage of Angel's expertise on issues before the committee. She's a former commercial banker and real estate saleswoman and owner  of commercial and residential properties who has served as a county commissioner and a member of an Economic Development District's executive board.

"The Majority Coalition Caucus is centered just where they were last year," Parlette said, adding the committee is equally split and either Hobbs or Angel can veto a bill. 

To the suggestion that Hobbs might not join Republicans when they try again to pass changes to workers compensation system, Parlette replied: "If he chooses to vote differently, I would say 'Did you not believe in it last year?'"

To see the official statements from the two sides, or to comment, continue inside the blog.