Thursday, January 17, 2013
The transfer of power in the state Senate — from the Democrats to the new Majority Coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats — was swift, orderly and uneventful as the lawmakers settled into the Capitol for a 105-day session on Monday.
But the 23 Democrats who now find themselves in the minority are frustrated and angry. Most Democrats have shunned invitations to accept meaningful roles to chair legislative committees. The Daily Olympian reported Democrats describing the new power structure as a “coup,” a “show-trial” or “bipartisanship in name only.”
The Majority Coalition has reserved the most powerful spots for its members (and particularly those key senators who made grabbing the majority possible). Conservative Rodney Tom of Medina was elevated to majority leader while conservative Democrat Tim Sheldon of Potlatch was elected Senate president pro tempore. Republicans have also been selected to oversee the most influential committee and hold the majority or chairmanships of the most influential committees such as Ways & Means (budget).
“I think the Majority Coalition Caucus is a great opportunity for like-minded legislators of both parties — regardless of party — to work together,” Sheldon said, adding the coalition is a “new model” for lawmakers.
The Majority Coalition did invite Democrats outside of its caucus to join with it and oversee committees. Allowing the minority to hold any key positions is beyond rare — it’s just not done. The Majority Coalition really might be trying to build bipartisanship.
But the offer was rejected by most Democrats. They didn’t want to break ranks with fellow Democrats.
“It’s so disconcerting to hear their message about bipartisanship and then see what it really means is a swift kick in the back of the knees,” said Sen. Jeannie Darneille, a Tacoma Democrat who passed on the opportunity to co-chair the Human Services and Corrections Committee.
This petulant approach isn’t doing Democrats any good, nor is it advancing the effort for the Senate to work in a bipartisan manner. This refusal to accept the new reality is, as the old saying goes, “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
Three Democrats did agree to take key posts. Sen. Brian Hatfield of Raymond will remain Agriculture chairman and Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens will remain chairman of Financial Institutions and Insurance. Sen. Tracey Eide of Des Moines will co-chair the Transportation Committee with a Republican.
This doesn’t make them traitors, it means they are pragmatic — they want to serve their constituents by having the most influence they can.
Democrats should accept their minority status (they don’t have to like it) and try to work with Republicans for bipartisan solutions to the state’s problems.