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Saturday, January 18, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane lawmakers could be in strong positions in 2017 Legislature

In this April 29, 2015, file photo, House Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Moeller pounds a gavel in the House Chamber during the first day of a 30-day special session of the Legislature, in Olympia, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
In this April 29, 2015, file photo, House Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Moeller pounds a gavel in the House Chamber during the first day of a 30-day special session of the Legislature, in Olympia, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

The Spokane area should retain its clout in Olympia despite some slight shifts in the House and Senate that seem likely from Tuesday’s election.

Control of both chambers will remain the same, although the sizes of the majorities will change if current trends hold in several close races.

Spokane lawmakers say they’ll be fighting to make sure Washington State University gets state money for its first class of medical students in Spokane, scheduled to begin classes next year. They’ll also be watching to make sure the money for the North Spokane Corridor stays on track.

Republicans are expected to continue controlling the Senate with the help of one conservative Democrat, Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, who for the last three years has joined with them to form the Majority Coalition Caucus. It’s a tenuous majority of 25 in the 49-member Senate.

Democrats currently have a two-seat majority in the House. They would see that grow by one if the four “too-close-to-call” races that have Republicans ahead in three and a Democrat leading in the fourth stay on those tracks.

Five legislative districts have all or part of their territory in Spokane County. In that group of lawmakers, the area has the top Senate Republican, Majority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville and the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Deputy Minority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane.

Positions change when a new Legislature is elected, and lawmakers will be in Olympia next week to begin that process. But Schoesler said he intends to run again for majority leader, and several of his colleagues say he likely has the support to keep it.

“Schoesler did a great job of keeping us in the majority,” Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said.

Billig said his leadership job is a productive spot, and he’ll likely remain there as well as keep a seat on the Ways and Means Committee and the Education Funding Task Force absent a major shift in the caucus. The task force is in the middle of what’s likely to be the overarching topic of the session, meeting a Supreme Court order to come up with more state money for public schools, something that’s important to Spokane just as it is to the rest of Washington, he said.

Like much of Eastern Washington, most of districts in or around Spokane vote Republican, which puts two more area senators in charge of committees: Spokane Valley’s Mike Padden is chairman of the Law and Justice Committee and Baumgartner heads the Commerce and Labor Committee.

The area benefits from low turnover, which allows members to move up in a system that rewards seniority. All members who sought re-election won their races Tuesday. The one open seat stayed Republican, with Mike Volz replacing Keven Parker.

The Spokane-area has only two Democrats in the House majority, but one of them, Timm Ormsby of central Spokane’s 3rd District, was named chairman of the House Appropriations Committee last spring when the sitting chairman resigned to take a seat on the Snohomish County Counci, and Ormsby moved up from the No. 2 slot. Asked if he’ll be chairman of the powerful budget-writing committee in the 2017 Legislature, Ormsby said it will depend on reorganization meetings that start next week.

“I am currently,” he said. “There’s a lot of moving parts here.”

His seatmate, Marcus Riccelli, is the vice chairman of the Health and Wellness Committee, and sits on the Capital Budget committee, that writes the budget for major state projects.

Although they’re in the minority, several area Republicans have key rolls on House committees or in the caucus. Spokane Valley’s Matt Shea is the top Republican on Natural Resources, Cheney’s Jeff Holy has a similar spots on State Government and Colfax’s Joe Schmick is Ranking Republican on Health and Wellness. Wauconda’s Joel Kretz is the deputy Republican leader.

Not all issues involving Spokane are partisan. WSU is seeking about $10.8 million in the next state budget for its first year of the new Elson Floyd Medical School, and that’s got support from area members from both parties in both chambers.

“We’re pretty united on that,” Padden said.

Baumgartner said he’s heard rumblings of an effort to siphon some money promised to the North Spokane Corridor to another megaproject in Seattle, the Alaskan Way tunnel which is behind schedule and over budget. His top priority is to make sure that doesn’t happen. With the majority leader and the chairman of the Transportation Committee both from Eastern Washington, it would be hard to move that money, he added.

Billig said he hadn’t heard those rumblings, but “I would have a very strong reaction to any attempt to reduce the funding.”

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