Another Senate coup is being discussed by Republicans. And this one could make Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom the new Senate majority leader.
That’s not a typo.
Tom, D-Bellevue, says GOP senators have discussed the idea with him, and Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt on Thursday confirmed the discussion.
“There’s has been some talk,” Hewitt said in an interview. “It’s not much different than what we did last year. You would have to go to the floor to do all this stuff, rather than having it done in caucus.”
Last session, Republicans took control of the Senate budget when three Democrats, including Tom and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, crossed party lines. That move blew up the Senate and for several weeks led to tense relations between both parties.
Any push to make Tom the majority leader likely depends on a close Senate race in Vancouver. Currently, Democrats control the Senate by a 27 to 22 majority. Republicans could pick up one seat, depending on the outcome of a close race between Republican state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Democratic Rep. Tim Probst.
Benton pulled ahead earlier this week and is leading by 110 votes. If Benton wins, Tom and Sheldon would be key swing votes for Republicans. If Benton loses and Democrats keep the current majority, talk of revamping the Senate may die.
Making Tom the majority leader would require rewriting Senate rules on the floor when the Legislature convenes in January, and, presumably, the vote of every Republican senator along with Tom and Sheldon.
Hewitt on Thursday said that although the idea is being discussed, he has not broached it with his caucus and doesn’t know if sufficient votes exist.
When asked what would be the advantage of such a move, Hewitt said, “We would be operating from the center. We would be governing from the center rather from the left.”
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, was recently picked as the Senate majority leader by his caucus. He urged Republicans to back off the idea of another coup.
“I hope they would walk away from an approach that would be so divisive,” Murray said. “I think it would poison our ability to function the rest of the session.”