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March 29, 2013 at 8:27 AM

Understanding lingering Democratic resentments in Washington’s Senate

State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair the Transportation Committee

State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair the Transportation Committee. (Instagram Photo by Thanh Tan/Seattle Times)

There’s another side to my Thursday column about the political chemistry between Washington Senate Transportation Committee Co-chairs Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima. The sense of trust they have in each other does not exist in the broader Senate this year, leading several other Democrats to reject offers from the Majority Coalition Caucus to chair or co-chair committees. Doing so would have been tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island

Below are highlights from my recent conversation with state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, who turned down the chance to co-chair the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee. Ranker says environmental issues that would have easily passed under a Democratic majority failed or moved slowly through the MCC. For instance, Ranker says his bill that would have banned toxics from children’s’ mattresses and toys died in committee, while a climate change bill moved through after being amended.

“It was abundantly clear to me that some of the most important bills to me were never going to get out of the Senate. So I didn’t want to be chair of a committee that in essence didn’t truly have the authority. It had the authority to move things within its committee, but never get them out of the Senate,” he says. “And the goal here isn’t just to get them out of the committee. It’s to get them to the governor’s desk. If that’s not an option, then what am I doing?” 

Ranker also decries the MCC’s decision to lift sanctions on state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, and its members’ willingness to hear bills on conservative issues like parental notification while withholding public meetings on the Reproductive Parity Act, which would protect insurance coverage for abortions after federal reforms take effect. (After two failed attempts to get Senate hearings for the RPA, the Senate Health Care Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the House version of the bill on Monday, April 1.) Other “social” issues in peril include the Washington DREAM Act (which passed the House and received a Senate hearing Thursday) and gun control (which did not pass the House).

“Those bills, it was made clear to me, were never going to be let out of the Senate, and if that’s the case — I don’t want to be part of that coalition. (State Sen.) Mark Schoesler teases me a lot and says, ‘You should have been one of my chairs.’ I don’t want to be one of your chairs. I’m not going to be part of a group that has fundamental core principles that I so disagree with.”

The one concession Ranker’s willing to make? The MCC has better time management that usually allows senators to get home to their families on weekends.

“That management piece, I’ve gotta hand it to them. They’re actually being more productive with our time. That said, what they’re putting through doesn’t represent what I think are the values of our state.” 

When the Majority Coalition Caucus took over, they offered Democrats six committee chairmanships and three co-chairmanships. Eventually, only two other minority party members aside from Eide accepted top posts. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, leads the Financial Institutions, Housing & Insurance Committee. Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, presides over the Agriculture, Water & Rural Economic Development Committee. Neither is considered to be very controversial.

Meanwhile, more consequential committees— such as Early Learning & K-12 Education, Health Care, Ways & Means, and Rules — are now stacked in favor of Republicans. That’s why I think Democratic resentments will probably linger through the end of the session. They’re used to calling the shots. Now they’re not. Well past the session’s half-way mark, it’s still a tough pill to swallow.

Going back to my column — several lawmakers, including Sen. Eide, have pointed out to me that transportation has traditionally been a bipartisan committee that deals with numbers versus other committees that focus on policy issues. Fair enough. I still think Sens. Eide and King will have some major differences to work through, and it will be interesting to see how they manage their caucus’ divergent expectations.

Comments | Topics: democrats, kevin ranker, majority coalition caucus


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