Two conservative Democratic state senators announced today they will join with Senate Republicans to form a “majority coalition caucus” in which they say power will more or less be split between the two parties.
The coup, which has been rumored since Republicans gained a seat in the Senate in last month’s election, would install one of the conservative Democrats, former Republican Rodney Tom of Bellevue, as the body’s majority leader and the other, Tim Sheldon of Potlach, as the president pro tempore.
Democrats and Republicans would each chair six committees under the proposal, with a majority of just one vote, Tom announced in a news conference. And three committees would be evenly split.
Republicans would chair some of the most important committees, however. Andy Hill of Redmond would chair the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee and Steve Litzow of Mercer Island would chair the early learning and K-12 education committee.
“What we’re doing here today is making sure that we have a Senate that functions,” said Tom, who called the move unprecedented. “The public out there is hungry for us to come together, to work together in a collaborative manner.”
Democrats have not signed on to the new coalition, which would focus on three stated priorities: promoting job growth, ensuring a “world class education system” and building a “sustainable budget.”
Asked about taxes, the Republicans cited the fact that Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, a Democrat, has pledged not to raise taxes.
Democrats controlled 26 of 49 seats before the coup and were preparing to lead the chamber under Sen. Ed Murry, D-Seattle. On Monday, they derided a power-sharing agreement as risky, noting that they have proposed to create an evenly-led education committee and to give Republicans an unprecedented number of seats on committees.
“We are concerned that trying to establish an unprecedented, untested, uncertain philosophical majority structure on the first day of the legislative session could bring the institution to a halt,” according to a Democratic statement.
Murray added in his own statement that Democrats “are committed to forming a mutually agreed-upon way for Republicans and Democrats to work together. We don’t believe the Republicans’ take-it-or-leave-it plan offers the right way forward. We remain hopeful that Republicans will be open to negotiations to ensure the full functioning of the Senate.”
Democrats control the state House.