Senate power play could bring bipartisan cooperation

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A power play by two conservative Democrats — Sen. Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Tim Sheldon of Potlach — could move the state Senate from the political left to the political center spurring a spirit of bipartisan cooperation.

Or it could leave the Senate a dysfunctional mess if most of the Democrats, who are unhappy (to put it mildly) that two of their own joined with Republicans to form the Majority Coalition Caucus, hold a grudge and refuse to cooperate.

Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla — and the Senate Republican leader until last month — expects the new Majority Coalition will function successfully. Hewitt, when he was still GOP leader, worked to broker the deal between Republicans and the conservative Democrats. Ultimately, he sees the framework as strong enough to work in the long run.

Hewitt anticipates the now-more-conservative Senate compromising with the Democrat-controlled House in writing a state budget and establishing state policy that is centrist.

“I think it will be good for the state. Better policy. Center policy,” Hewitt said in an interview with the U-B on Tuesday, a day after the the Majority Coalition deal was affirmed.

But, he said, senators should expect a rough ride early on.

“I do believe it will create a little hostility in the Senate,” Hewitt said.

What happened in Olympia on Monday just doesn’t happen and, therefore, wasn’t expected to happen — ever.

The Senate has 26 Democrats and 23 Republicans. It’s usually a given the majority elects one of its own as leader. Democrats were looking to Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, to be in control.

But when all 23 Republicans signed on to a deal with Tom and Sheldon, a new 25-24 majority was formed. It’s now Tom who will be elected leader and Sheldon the president pro tempore.

“The public out there is hungry for us to come together, to work together in a collaborative manner,” Tom said, “and that’s exactly what this coalition is trying to accomplish.”

The mostly GOP Majority Coalition could have kept control of all of the committees as well as the committee chairmanships.

The Majority Coalition has decided to share committee power. 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.

The Seattle Times reported Tuesday that coalition leaders said their goal is to spur more debate in committees and on the floor. It is also hoped that in sharing power more Democrats will join the Majority Coaltiion,

“It’s naive or brilliant,” Dave Freiboth, leader of the King County Labor Council, told the Times. “Who knows?”

For the good of the state, let’s hope it is ultimately brilliant and spurs real bipartisan cooperation.

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