Latest from The Spokesman-Review
OLYMPIA — Anyone looking for a frenzied pace of activity in the special session would so far be disappointed, and today might best exemplify the pace.
The House isn't doing anything and the Senate had its own version of casual Friday. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who normally presides over Senate activity, wasn't available for the 10 a.m. pro forma session, so Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville was pressed into service to bang the gavel.
Schoesler took the rostrum without a tie, which isn't just a fashion faux pas but outside the normal dress code of the chamber. "I didn't find out I was doing this until five minutes to 10," Schoesler said.
With one Republican and one Democrat on the floor, Schoesler banged through the business of the day — reading the journal (dispensed with), reading of new bills (skip to the last line), accepting partial vetoes from Gov. Jay Inslee (message received) and adjournment — in three and a half minutes.
Probably not a record, but pretty fast for his first time.
A man of compassion expressing his disgust and disappointment yesterday, President Obama spoke in a press conference about the Senate’s failure to pass a sensible law that would require background checks for all people who buy guns.
The grief of the families who have lost loved ones to gun violence was palpable through the television. The resolve and commitment of all those who worked for greater, sensible laws continue. Hopefully, in the future, our leaders will make decisions that actually represent their constituents’ views, and protect innocent citizens, instead of decisions they believe will protect their own jobs.
(S-R photo: Neil Heslin, father of six-year-old Newtown victim Jesse Lewis, left, and former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., stands by President Barack Obama as he gestures while speaking during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House.)
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. . .
OLYMPIA — The Senate will have two claimants to the title of "majority leader" when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 14
Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle said Republicans will need more than a press conference and a logo on their stationary to be in control of the chamber.
In a letter today to Sen. Rodney Tom of Bellevue, who last week was named majority leader by a coalition of the chamber's 23 Republicans, himself and fellow defecting Democrat Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, Murray says that's not how the system works: "Under the current and past Senate rules, and longstanding past interpretations of those rules, the majority caucus is defined as the party containing the most elected members, which currently remains the Democratic Caucus."
Tom wrote Murray last week, asking him to name chairmen and co-chairmen to certain committees the coalition said it was asking Democrats to control as a sign of bipartisanship. Murray made clear today he wasn't going to do that.
The party with the most members elects the majority leader, and the Democrats picked him. The Democratic Caucus also sent its choice for committee leaders and members to the lieutenant governor, who fills those slots "as presented to him by the majority caucus."
The coalition will have to change the permanent rules of the Senate. Until that happens. . .
OLYMPIA – To hear supporters tell it, a new power-sharing coalition in the state Senate could usher in a Legislative session of compromise and moderation, with a positive response to Rodney King’s famous question: Can’t we all just get along?
Forgive a professional skeptic, but it’s more likely to be best described by the title of a famous 1934 speech by Huey Long: Every man a king.
That’s not to suggest the 23 Republicans and two Democrats who last week announced a “Coalition Majority” will push for the Louisiana populist’s platform of wealth redistribution. Far from it.
Rather, they have set up a scenario where any controversial piece of legislation could be held hostage by any senator at any time. . .
To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.
Sen. Jim Hargrove shows charts that indicate where state government has reduced spending on some social programs.
OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats don't know yet whether they will accept an offer to lead six legislative committees in the coming session, Sen. Jim Hargrove said today.
The Hoquiam Democrat, who is the chamber's longest serving legislator, said they'll meet next week to discuss their options. But Hargrove said the coalition of 23 Republican and two Democrats who formed a coalition majority with a plan to run the Senate is not really offering to share power by letting Democrats run six committees and be co-chairmen of three others.
"It's not a power-sharing offer. It's a structural offer," Hargrove said.
Whether it results in more bipartisan cooperation isn't clear, he added. "Our expectation was that everything was going to have to be bipartisan."
Part of that strategy for Democrats was appointing Hargrove, one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate to be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which is arguably the most powerful committee becaue it handles the budget. But that was last month, when it looked as though they had a 26-23 majority. After Democrats Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Tim Sheldon of Potlach decided to form a new majority with the 23 Republicans, that group named Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, to head that committee.
Democrats will meet next week to discuss possible reassignments.
"That's all up for discussion, but as of this point I think I'm the minority leader (of Ways and Means)" Hargrove said.
Regardless of who is in charge of the committee, it was almost certain to write a budget without a tax increase while looking for options to cut government spending, he said: "It's pretty clear that the public is not interested in any more taxes."
OLYMPIA — Reaction to the announcement of a new coalition to run the Senate is decidedly mixed.
Republicans, not surprisingly, are hailing the decision of two Democrats to join hands with the 23 GOP members and create a brave new world of legislative leadership.
State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur described himself as "beyond excited."
"The courage of these two Democrats means that we can expect a no-new taxes budget and education reform with Republicans now chairing both the Ways and Means and K-12 committees," Wilbur said in a press release.
His Democratic counterpart, Dwight Pelz, is, not surprisingly, less thrilled. Sens. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon "turned their backs" on their own party to side with "radically right" Republicans, he said. And this after the state Ds gave Tom $25,000 in his last election.
"Sen. Tom has instigated this unprecedented coup and joined with Republicans to install himself as Majority Leader out of a desire to further his own personal ambitions," Pelz said in a prepared statement.
Governor-elect Jay Inslee is staking a "wait and see" attitude on the loss of his party's control of the Senate and won't weigh in on whether Democrats should reject the offer choosing some committee chairmanships and sharing others, spokeswoman Jaime Smith said. Who is in charge of the chamber and the committees is less important than solving problems on the budget and education, she added.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said the plan "certainly has the potential to make reaching a consensus more difficult" but insisted House Democrats have always worked with members from both chambers and both sides of the aisle. (House Republicans would likely take issue with that. ) He also chimed in on the Senate Republicans' theme of not wanting to look like that Congress.
"But we can't allow this Washington to devolve into the bitter drama and endless gridlock we too often see in the other Washington," Sullivan said.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, answers a question at the press conference announcing plans for a coalition to run the Senate.
OLYMPIA — If the math holds, Republicans and a pair of Democrats will control the state Senate in 2013.
The 23 Republicans voting as a block with two Democrats mean a 25 vote majority over the remaining 24 Democrats. The 25 are offering the 24 a piece of the action.
The 24 may refuse.
For the full story, click here.
OLYMPIA — Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville area wheat farmer, was named leader of the state Senate's Republican Caucus Wednesday.
Schoesler, 55, has served 20 years in the Legislature, was elected by other Republicans to take the place of Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla, who stepped down from the top caucus spot this fall. Sen. Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee was elected caucus chairwoman, the number two leadership spot.
An astute parliamentarian, Schoesler managed debates as floor leader in the previous session and served as part of the GOP's budget negotiating team. As the caucus leader, he becomes one of the "four corners" — the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate, the minority leader in the House and the House speaker — who are key to meetings with the governor when issues deadlock. He also becomes the chief spokesman for the Republican caucus.
He could wield more power than usual in the coming session because Democrats have a thin 26-23 majority in the chamber, and so two or more defections of any Democrats on any issue would give Republicans a majority if Schoesler can hold the caucus together as a block. Two of the most conservative Democrats have also talked about joining Republicans for an organizational vote on the first day that would create a coalition leadership.
OLYMPIA – With votes to spare, the state Senate passed a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington, sending it to the House of Representatives where it also has enough votes to pass.
A full gallery erupted after senators passionately but respectfully debated what Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle called “as contentious as any this body has considered, then passed it on a 28-21 vote.
Those who oppose it should not be accused of bigotry, Murray said. Those who support it should not be accused of religious intolerance.
“This is a difficult personal issue because it is about what is closest to us…family. Marriage is how society says you are a family.”
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OLYMPIA — Debate over the same-sex marriage bill is scheduled for 6 p.m. this evening in the Senate.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the bill's prime sponsor, estimates a couple hours for debate, although it could go longer.
Will probably depend on the number of amendments, and the stamina of the two sides.
We'll be live blogging the debate here at Spin Control, and providing full coverage in Thursday's print edition and the web page.
This is some nasty news. Senate Republicans introduced legislation to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency - which was established 40 years ago by President Richard Nixon to give Americans clean air and water.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). The plan is to merge the EPA, which enforces environmental laws, with the Department of Energy. They manages nuclear energy and energy research. Why one department?
Burr introduced a bill that would consolidate the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency into a single, new agency called the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). The bill would provide cost savings by combining duplicative functions while improving the administration of energy and environmental policies by ensuring a coordinated approach.
Burr's bill has 15 cosponsors. All, coincidentally, are global warming deniers: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Thune (R-S.D.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ariz.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), David Vitter (R-La.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah).
OLYMPIA — The Senate began discussion of the 2011-13 Transportation Bill shortly afternoon — and stopped fairly quickly.
A ruling is needed to determine whether Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, can get a vote on an amendment that would require applicants for a drivers license to present a valid Social Security number or some other form of identification that proves they are citizens.
Washington is the only state that does not require citizenship before issuing a drivers license, Benton said. That makes it a "magnet" for illegal immigrants seeking some form of state-issued ID.
Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, argued that the amendment is out of order because it's outside the subject and scope of the transportation bill, which she said is about spending money on transportation projects over the next two years. Benton's proposed change would essentially create a new state law on drivers licenses that would extend beyond the life of the spending plan.
Benton argued it fits in the transportation bill, which has money for a pilot program for a new federal licensing program that mentions Social Security numbers as part of its qualifications.
The budget debate was put on hold, pending a ruling on whether Benton's amendment is out of order. A few minutes later, the Senate adjourned until Wednesday morning because its Ways and Means Committee has a hearing at 2:30 p.m. that will require much of the members to attend.
The U.S. Senate has voted 81-19 in favor of H.R. 1493, the spending cuts bill that passed the House earlier today, sending the bill to President Obama. Among those 19 "no" votes: Both of Idaho's senators. Lindsay Nothern, press secretary for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said, "He didn't think the cuts went far enough." Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has expressed a similar view.
The bill is identical to the one that passed the House - so it includes Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's rider lifting endangered species protections from wolves.
Olympia reporter Jim Camden is reporting that Spokane Valley city councilman and former state senator Bob McCaslin had a leg amputated yesterday after being hospitalized with circulatory problems since last week. The hospital says he is in satisfactory condition. Click here for more information and here for a previous story with details on his recent health issues.
Spokane County Commissioners said yesterday that they will do background checks and have requested more information on the three men up for consideration to fill Bob McCaslin's vacant senate seat. He resigned Jan. 5 for health reasons.
The 4th legislative district precinct committee officers met over the weekend and voted to forward three names to the commissioners: Rep. Matt Shea and district leaders Jeff Baxter and Roy Murry.
Read John Craig's story for more information on the three men and the appointment process.
There is apparently a bit of a storm brewing around the appointment of a replacement for Spokane Valley City Councilman Bob McCaslin, who resigned his seat in the State Senate earlier this month for health reasons. Olympia reporter Jim Camden has an interesting report this morning on delays in the nominating process. There are a couple of unexpected names on the list of people who would like to fill the Senate seat: former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite, who worked on McCaslin's first senate campaign, and Liberty Lake Mayor Wendy Van Orman.
Spokane Valley City Councilman Bob McCaslin confirmed at last night's meeting that he will keep his council seat even as he resigns from the Washington State Senate for health reasons. He said he has been diagnosed with a bone morrow disorder that prevents him from producing enough red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Myelodysplastic syndrome is also known as pre-leukemia. Click here for a story by Olympia reporter Jim Camdem that I contributed a little to.
Washington State Senator and Spokane Valley City Councilman Bob McCaslin has reportedly announced that he is resigning his Senate seat for health reasons. McCaslin has had several heath issues and hospitalizations in the last year. The Spokesman-Review reporter in Olympia, Jim Camden, is working on getting more details. McCaslin was first elected in 1981.
WASHINGTON – Less than two months after voters gave Republicans six more Senate seats and control of the House, the GOP is lining up candidates for 2012, well ahead of the pace of previous election cycles.
Looking to ride what they hope will be a continuing Republican wave, nine potential challengers, including two each in Missouri and Virginia, already have said they are weighing bids for the U.S. Senate.
They have an abundance of targets. Twenty-one of the 33 Senate seats up in 2012 are held by Democrats and two others are occupied by independents who align themselves with Democrats.
Do you foresee a continuing Republican wave in 2012?
Shelly O’Quinn’s legislative race, like nearly every political race worth a darn, may be leaving some supporters with hard feelings, nagging questions and what ifs.
Wednesday’s ballot count showed O’Quinn has no real hope of moving out of third place, which is no doubt vexing to supporters who believed she was a candidate with great potential to be a rising GOP star. While they try to figure out why she lost, some apparently have come up with a theory that it was Democratic perfidity that helped do her in.
The theory, recounted by one supporter, is that Democrats were afraid that freshman incumbent John Driscoll would have a much harder time in the general against O’Quinn than John Ahern. There’s some logic to that speculation:
Driscoll beat Ahern, a well-entrenched encumbent, two years ago, so history is on their side.
Ahern outpolled O’Quinn, but she outspent him.
The Gallatin Group, a regional public affairs organization that has people who follow politics the way others follow Gonzaga basketball, opined as such in an election eve epistle titled “Pondering Politics in the Inland Northwest”: Here’s our prediction. In an Ahern vs. Driscoll match-up, Driscoll wins. However, the Gallatin office is split in our prediction that if O’Quinn manages a win tomorrow the seat will return back to its Republican roots with an O’Quinn victory in November against Driscoll.
So wily Democrats could try to sway the outcome of the primary by voting for Ahern now, then switching to Driscoll in November. Or so the speculation goes.
Speculation is one thing. Facts are something else.
One, it assumes Democrats are organized enough to hatch the plan, and execute it by having willing Driscoll voters cast ballots for Ahern. Democrats have shown themselves to be anything but organized this year. Were they that organized, they’d have fielded candidates in the 4th, and recruited a congressional hopeful who could win at least one county in the 5th District.
B, it ignores the fact that Washington voters love to split tickets on their own.
Lastly, if there was some kind of plot that could overcome the ticket-splitting tendencies of the electorate, it would show up in the vote totals when comparing the votes for the House race with those in the 6th District Senate race. Democrat Sen. Chris Marr pulled down about 2,000 more votes than fellow Democrat Driscoll, while Ahern and Quinn combined for about 4,000 more votes than Republican Senate hopeful Mike Baumgartner. Considering that Marr and Driscoll have similar voting histories that would attract the same partisan support, if something fishy is going on, a pattern would likely emerge. Ahern would consistently do much better in precincts that Marr won handily as Democrats crossed over to vote for him to help Driscoll down the road; O’Quinn would consistenty run stronger in precincts where Baumgartner ran far ahead of Marr.
As the maps below show, that ain’t what happened. At least not consistently.
Setting aside the fact that there were much bigger swings in the Marr-Baumgartner race, which is common in a two-person contest, what happened was this: Ahern did very well in some of the precincts where Baumgartner did very well, but O’Quinn also ran strong in some strong Baumgartner precincts. And both had successes and failures in precincts that Marr won handily.
What the maps show more conclusively is that Ahern won because he won more of those same Republican-leaning precincts that Baumgartner won, and by bigger margins. It’s a pretty simple equation. Win more votes in more places, and you win the election.
OLYMPIA — TheSenate approved temporary jumps in state sales and business taxes, narrowly passing a tax plan that may not survive the weekend in the House.
Senate Democrats made some changes in the plan they passed during the regular session which also was gutted in the House. Instead of a three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax for the next three years, they approved a two-tenths of 1 percent increase for that period.
They approved temporary increases to the business and occupation tax, but also increased the credit for small businesses with sales of less than $72,000.
They also amended the bill to give exemptions from the business tax increases to researchers, non-profit hospitals and realtors.
Democrats emphasized that the tax increase was the smallest part of their budget solution, which also includes federal funding and cuts of some $5 billion from the budget they would have carried forward from the last biennium.
Republicans argued those aren’t all real cuts, but reductions in anticipated increases, brought on by overspending in previous years.
OLYMPIA — Opening salvo in the Senate debate over a package of tax increases to help ballot the state’s operating budget.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, argues the whole bill is unconstitutional because it contains too many subjects. It’s logrolling, he contends.
This bill contains 21 different taxes and I don’t believe any one of these can stand on their own,” he says.
Senate Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, counters the title of the bill is broad enough to cover everything in the bill.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, presiding over the Senate, breaks to make a ruling on Benton’s point of order: “The title properly reflects the content of the bill. Sen. Benton’s point of order is not well taken.”
Debate on amendments will begin.
OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats called for a two-minute caucus, and after they left Lt. Gov. Brad Owen,who presides over the chamber to express some doubts about their ability to tell time.
“Three words that don’t go together: two minute and caucus,” he said.
They’ve been out for several multiples of two…
When they return, budget debate is expected.
OLYMPIA — Proposed budgets are almost always “fluid documents.” This year’s budget proposals are so fluid that House Democrats don’t even have a tax package yet and Senate Democrats are making changes so fast that they aren’t even numbered.
Last night in a Senate Ways and Means Committee budget hearing, Democrats offered an amendment to add $1 million to the Department of Social and Health Services budget “to contract for the provision of an individual provider referral registry, pursuant to SB xxxx.”
Senate bills come with numbers, not x’s, so one can look them up and figure out what that line refers to.
For full text, Click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — Republicans argue that the bill should remove the emergency clause, because immediate enactment would block any chance of referendum by voters unhappy with suspending I-960. They have an amendment to that effect.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, “How can you say it’s an emergency when you haven’t even reached across the aisle to try to solve the problems.”
It will gut taxpayer protections without even giving voters “the time of day,” Benton said.
Democrats say that Republicans previously complained about the slow pace of the action, and that removing the emergency clause means it wouldn’t go into effect until long after the session is over. And if a referendum is filed, the supermajority wouldn’t be suspended until after the votes are counted from the November election.
Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R, notes that Democrats are only one-vote shy of a two thirds majority right now.
Republicans demanded a roll-call vote. It failed, 22-26, with all Republicans and Democrats Tim Sheldon and Chris Marr voting yes
OLYMPIA —The state Senate has reconvened for floor debate on several major bills.
First up, after confirming several gubernatorial appointments and introducing guests in the gallery, will be the debate over a bill covering flooding in the Green River Valley,
That will be followed by a bill suspending bonuses for many state employees, then a range of bills that cover everything from the disposition of human remains to transferring emergency food assistance programs to the state Ag Department to the placement of minors during child welfare cases.
At the end of the list is SB 6843, which allows for changes to Initiative 960, the law passed by voters in 2007 that requires a two-thirds majority to approve any tax increases.
Stay tuned. Spin Control will offer updates as warranted.
OLYMPIA — The state Senate will vote soon on whether to suspend the supermajority provisions of I-960 for tax increases.
Republican members have been ready for a while, walking about the floor making “drink the Kool-Aid” references. Democrats are just coming out of their caucus where they discussed the upcoming votes.
In the gallery are more than 100 white-coated pharmacy students, so if anyone really does take poison, they could come in handy…
Before voting on Senate Bill 6843, they’ll be voting on propsals to freeze pay and hold back on bonuses for state workers.
While much notoriety stems from not a single Republican lawmaker supporting it, yesterday the House approved the $819 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with a final vote of 244-188. But the stimulus will draw much attention to greening the future, since more than $100 billion in direct spending will go to clean energy, retrofitting buildings, a smart grid, cleanups, and more. A few highlights are $14.6 billion for public transportation, $37.9 billion for energy efficiency, and $27.8 billion for renewable energy. The bill will move to the Senate where they will not vote until next week, and it looks to be $68 billion larger.
Not all is well though. In the Senate bill, there’s $50 billion in loan guarantees for the nuclear industry. “The nuclear industry has given millions of dollars to politicians, an investment that appears to be paying off,” Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder commented. “Senators are supposed to be fixing the economy but instead they’re offering the nuclear industry a $50 billion gift that will create virtually no near-term jobs. It’s unconscionable. Lobbyists are probably popping champagne corks as we speak.
Even more disappointing were the coal supporters that added $4.6 billion for the industry into the Senate bill. That’s double the house version, including $2 billion for “near-zero emissions” power plants, $1 billion for the Department of Energy’s Clean Coal Power Initiative, and $1.6 billion for carbon capture industrial plants. We’ve said it before but there’s no such thing as clean coal.
Caroline Kennedy tells the New York governor that she won’t be seeking the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, who, by the way, was confirmed as secretary of state.
Kennedy says her uncle’s decline factored into the decision. Strikes me as a decision looking for a reason. The resistance and criticism she received probably had more to do with it.
So, will this end the Kennedy Era for good? Thoughts?