OLYMPIA…Democrat and Republican senators announced today that they have formed a Majority Coalition Caucus to lead the Senate during the 2013 legislative session. Twenty-five state senators have committed themselves to a set of principles that will guide the work of the new caucus, including:
- promoting job growth and a vibrant economy;
- creating a sustainable budget and living within the state’s means;
- providing a world-class education system through reforms and enhancements;
- governing collaboratively to protect the most vulnerable while prioritizing the needs of middle-class Washingtonians; and
- setting priorities for state government and holding it accountable.
“The public is hungry for Olympia to come together and work cooperatively on our most important priorities – jobs, education and the budget,” said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue. “The fact that 65 percent of citizens just voted to affirm a two-thirds vote standard for raising taxes also shows they are looking for a more responsible government – especially when it comes to spending. It is time we put aside party dynamics and focus instead on the needs of all Washingtonians.”
The Majority Coalition Caucus has agreed that when the Legislature convenes next month it will form six committees with Democratic chairs, six with Republican chairs and three with co-chairs. None of the committees will have more than a one-vote margin between Republicans and Democrats.
“People are looking for something different from what they’re seeing in the other Washington. This new caucus will conduct the Senate’s business in a truly bipartisan way, sharing committee control and governing together. It’s exactly the sort of cooperation the people of our state and our nation want to see,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “In the past, some of us have been on opposite sides of issues. But when it comes to prioritizing our state spending, we stand side by side. I look forward to showing that in the Senate we can put policy ahead of politics and govern in a responsible and bipartisan way.”
The Majority Coalition Caucus’s governing principles specifically state that it is the members’ intent to operate in a bipartisan and cooperative way using a structure that fosters a truly shared leadership style.
“The coalition of Democratic and Republican senators formed late in the 2012 session was the driving force behind an unprecedented set of reforms and a responsible budget supported by 90 percent of the Senate,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch. “The surest path to more reforms and a sustainable budget next year is for us to work as a bipartisan coalition from the get-go, investing the time up front to get it right. This approach has already worked. In 2003 the Republicans who held the Senate majority at the time named me chair of the Economic Development Committee. That bipartisan approach resulted in the inclusion of a wide variety of perspectives, good geographical representation and better legislation.”
The 2013 legislative session begins Jan. 14.
- Download a Signed Copy of Governing Principles of the Majority Coalition Caucus
- Download a PDF of the 2013-14 Policy Committee Structure and Chairs
Tom, Sheldon deal hands majority to Senate Republicans
The 74 votes in Clark County that helped re-elect Sen. Don Benton may not seem like many, but they have turned the state Senate upside down.
In the wake of Benton’s election, two moderate Democrats, Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue) and Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) have joined forces with Senate Republicans in a coalition agreement that will propel Tom to the position of Majority Leader and hand control of several key committees to Republicans. Sheldon will serve as President Pro Tem of the Senate.
The move gives Republicans a seat at the table of state government, even though they do not have a majority in either house of the legislature or control the governor’s mansion. The coalition will have a 25-24 vote advantage in the Senate.
“This is very simple,” Tom said at a news conference announcing the coalition. “We have come together as a coalition to work on promoting job growth in a vibrant economy, making sure that we have a world-class education system here in Washington, and doing that within a sustainable budget.”
“The public is looking for us to get away from politics and start governing,” Tom said. “The election season is over.” He pledged to “govern from the middle” with the help of Republicans led by Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville).
Added Schoesler: “This is the sort of cooperation people are hungry for.”
Just a few weeks ago, incoming Senate Democrats had elected Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle) as Majority Leader, and appointed a host of committee chairs that would tackle several critical issues in the upcoming session, such as implementing a state Supreme Court decision on education funding, putting the federal Affordable Care Act into place and closing a $1 billion gap between forecast revenues and planned spending for the next two years.
In an interview with TV Washington’s Inside Olympia before the coalition was made public, Murray called the potential for such a move “a recipe for the Senate to become the most dysfunctional institution in state government.”
Schoesler disagreed. “Absolutely not,” he said in response to the question of whether a coalition spells chaos in the Senate. “On the priorities of the coalition, we stand together.”
While many questions remain about how the Senate will operate, it is clear that Tom and Sheldon will play critical roles. In addition to their leadership roles, they will both serve on the Senate Rules Committee, which is the committee that decides what measures will make it to the floor for votes.
Under the terms of the coalition, Democrats and Republicans will each chair six committees, each with a one-vote margin of majority, and three will be equally divided with co-chairs. Republicans will head Ways and Means, Commerce and Labor, Early Learning and K-12 Education, Government Operations, Law and Justice, and Health Care. Democrats will head Natural Resources and Parks, Agriculture and Water, Trade and Economic Development, Financial Institutions and Insurance, Higher Education, Environment and Marine Waters. Co-chaired committees will be Human Services and Corrections, Transportation and Energy and Telecommunications.
In other words, Republicans will chair the committees responsible for budget writing as well as implementing health-care reform and changes to K-12 education required by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.
Republicans announced their committee chairs and ranking members at the news conference, but it remains to be seen which Democrats will fill committee roles. The Republican committee chairs represent many areas of the state, meaning “better representation for all of Washington,” said Ann Rivers (R-La Center). In the previous legislature, all committee chairs were from King County, she said.