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March 17, 2014 at 6:28 AM

Washington transportation committee co-chairs, allies turn against each other

An experiment in bipartisanship that began with so much promise a year ago totally crumbled in the final hours of this year’s legislative session.

State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair the Transportation Committee (2013 Instagram photo by Thanh Tan)

State Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, co-chair the Transportation Committee (2013 Instagram photo by Thanh Tan)

Let’s turn the clock back to March 27, 2013. On that day, I wrote a column, “State Senate Transportation co-chairs break new ground as political foes — and allies.” I’d gone down to Olympia to learn more about one of the rare political partnerships that emerged from the formation of the Majority Coalition Caucus. The buzz in the capitol at that time was that state Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, were showing it was possible for a Republican and a Democrat to co-chair a committee and get things done.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Though other Democrats rejected the coalition’s offers to lead committees, Eide surprised her colleagues by accepting the co-chairmanship with King.

“I trust him explicitly,” she said, citing their experience together crafting budgets and serving on committees. 

King says Eide was a fierce but fair Democratic floor leader from the time he entered office in late 2007. She helped him move bills when she could, and was upfront when she could not.

“She was honest with me, and you can’t ask for anything more than that,” he shared during an interview in the spacious chairman’s office he moved into after Eide turned it down (reportedly after experiencing backlash from her own caucus).

They claim Democratic resentments have reduced to a simmer. Some issues transcend partisanship. Keeping roads safe in a trade-dependent state is one of them.

Getting along makes a difference, too.

Serving her 17th year in the Legislature, Eide has felt the pain of political back-stabbing. The urban Democrat knows an ally when she sees one, even if he is a rural Republican.

“Trust is ultimately the thing,” Eide says of her partnership with King. “And trust is a big factor.”

Well. Fast-forward to March 14, 2014. Washington legislators ended the session without a transportation revenue package. The gloves came off and Eide did not mince words in this press release:

“With time running out in session, I invited Sen. King last week to hear and exec the latest Republican proposal — not our proposal but the proposal his caucus wants — so we would bring it to the floor for action.

“As you can see, no action was taken. Instead of bringing their proposal to the floor, Republicans held a press conference to blame me and my caucus for their own failure to lead.

“At this point, I have no choice but to conclude that Sen. Tom’s and Sen. King’s earlier comments more accurately represented their caucus’ stance from the start. Anyone who tells you it was Senate Democrats who lacked the will to pass a package this session is just looking for a skirt to hide behind.”

Eide’s angry message came two days after King held a press conference and issued this release blaming Democrats for the Legislature’s failure to produce a transportation package. On Friday, he shot back with another email accusing Gov. Jay Inslee of violating a confidentiality agreement with negotiators from both chambers.

“What was missing throughout the 2014 session was bipartisan leadership by the governor and commitment to reforming our broken transportation system. Governor Inslee failed to bring the two parties together and the Democratic co-chair of the Senate transportation committee along with leadership among the Senate’s minority Democrats, failed to allow reforms to come to a vote.”

“Had these two things happened, we likely would have come to an agreement and approved a transportation package that worked for all of Washington. Instead, the governor preferred engaging in a Washington D.C.-style blame game instead of showing true bipartisan leadership.”

Interesting that King refused to call out his co-chair by name. (Eide recently announced she plans to retire from the Senate.) He did send out an useful chart (see below) outlining the two caucus’ negotiating positions over the last several months. This graph shows the Majority Coalition Caucus moved significantly from its initial position last year on several issues. But as Eide suggested, it’s puzzling why the coalition didn’t at least put up its own proposal for a vote in the Senate. Perhaps King could not drum up enough support within his caucus.

Bottom line: all sides get dinged for failing to reach a compromise. The Senate committee that offered the best hope of showing how lawmakers can work together was felled by the thing they all claim to despise: “D.C.-style politics.”

Graphic provided by the Majority Coalition Caucus

Graphic provided by the Majority Coalition Caucus

Comments | Topics: curtis king, legislature, tracey eide


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