Senate Shake Up

Two Democratic Senators shook up the Washington State Senate yesterday with the announcement of a “majority power-sharing coalition.” Democrats Rodney Tom (Medina) and Tim Sheldon (Shelton) joined Republican’s in a move to take power in the closely-split chamber.  Currently the Democrats hold a slim majority (26 seats to the Republican’s 23), but Tom and Sheldon’s move throw that majority into question.

The proposed “coalition government” would name Tom as the new Senate Majority Leader and Sheldon as Speaker Pro Tempore. Last week Senate Democrats elected Democrat Ed Murray (Seattle) as Majority Leader and Sheldon as Speaker Pro Tempore. Additionally, the coalition suggests an even split of committee chairmanships, with the Republican’s taking the eagerly sought-after Ways & Means committee.  They also suggest dual-chairmanship of three committees; Transportation, Human Services & Corrections and Energy & Telecommunications.

As expected, Democrats were not thrilled with the proposal. Long-time Education Chair, Rosemary McAuliffe (D, Bothell) was quoted in the Seattle Times as saying ” This is not a coalition, it’s a takeover.” “If Senator Tom and Senator Sheldon want to go over to the Republican side, they should just become Republicans.” Additionally, Democratic State Party Chairman Dwight Pelz went even further, calling the renegades “a couple of lonely men that feel this need to be important.” He called the plan risky and a “recipe for gridlock in Olympia.”

How it might work

According to the Seattle Times the proposal “would effectively eliminate the Republican Caucus when the Legislature convenes Jan. 14. In its place would be the Majority Coalition Caucus, composed of all 23 Republicans and Tom and Sheldon. Democrats would constitute the minority caucus. Democrats and Republicans would chair six committees each, with a majority of just one vote. Three committees would be evenly split and co-chaired by one Republican and one Democrat.”

Several Democrat’s, however, were quick to cry foul on the plan pointing most of  the power and “important committees” are going to Republicans, as well as Senator Majority Leader and Majority Floor Leader who designates which bills go to which committee.

Where is Higher Education in all this?

Under the current proposal Senate Democrats would retain control of the Higher Education committee, but at this time a chair has not been named. Remember, Senator Tom has been Chair of Higher Education, so that position would most certainly change.

What’s Next?

The Senate Democratic Caucus is planning to meet to decide how to respond to the Majority Coalition Caucus proposal. The Government Relations Office at Evergreen will continue to monitor developments and provide updates to the blog as soon as they are available.