Democrats hold all the power in Olympia, having won the race for governor and the majority in the House and Senate — at least on paper.
But two conservative Democrats in the Senate are considering voting with Republicans in an effort to move the upper house closer to the political center. If that occurs, the Republicans and two Democrats would be able to elect the majority leader and have a say in committee chairmanships.
Democratic leadership is looking at making a compromise deal with Republicans.
Can the Senate be effective when power is shared? Will the alliances formed now hold until lawmakers adjourn in the spring?
These and many more questions will swirl through Olympia in January and beyond as the Legislature faces the task of balancing a budget that’s already soaked in red ink.
Sen. Ed Murray would have been the likely choice to lead the Senate under normal Democratic control. But the Seattle liberal won’t get the nod if the conservative Democrats vote with Republicans.
Last week Murray said he hopes the Senate majority can be established before January so lawmakers will be able to move into their offices (those with more power get better offices) and, more importantly, a clear agenda can be established.
“At what point do you become ineffective because you’ve entered into some sort of convoluted governing arrangement that doesn’t allow you to accomplish what you came down here for?” Murray said. “I’m more concerned about the Senate functioning than with being majority leader.”
Murray has a valid concern.
It would be counterproductive to whipsaw the Senate with new leadership and new direction that changes from month to month or week to week.
Conservative Democrats Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom made this move because they see the majority of their party as too liberal on some issues.
“I’m not looking to give any particular party the power,” said Sheldon of Potlatch. “I’m interested in the best person to lead the committee, regardless of party.”
If Tom and Sheldon want this to work out, they should sit down with Murray and leaders of both parties to hash out a compromise to share power that will not cripple the legislative process.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, himself a conservative Democrat, should also be involved as he presides over the Senate as its president. Owen has about 40 years of legislative experience. Owen should be using all of that experience and knowledge to bring these factions together.
In the end, we would like to see the Senate move closer to the political center. We would hope Republicans have a strong voice in the legislative process. We continue to believe that approaching the serious problem from various points of view across the political spectrum will produce lasting solutions.