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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

December 17, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Senate Democrats reject GOP offer for new majority coalition


State Senate Democrats formally rejected a Republican power-sharing arrangement on Monday, saying they will retain control until the GOP can take it away.

Senate Republicans announced earlier this month that they planned to take over the chamber, with the help of Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach.

Tom and Sheldon would give the GOP a 25 to 24 vote majority in the Senate, and presumably control. Under that proposal Tom would become the Senate majority leader.

Republicans asked Democrats to agree to the arrangement and in return Democrats would chair six lower-tier committees while Republicans would chair six others, including the budget writing, education and health-care panels. Republicans and Democrats would co-chair three other committees.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the Democratic caucus leader and current majority leader, sent a letter to Tom on Monday rejecting the idea.

“He’s not the majority leader. Our point was you have to go to the Senate, when it convenes, and then you can do those things. That’s the bottom line,” Murray said in an interview.

In other words, the GOP would have to use its majority during the legislative session next month to change Senate rules and actually take control.

In his letter to Tom, Murray also wrote: “I would note that members of our caucus reject the notion that both you and Sen. Sheldon are, under your proposed structure, designated as Democrats for committee membership allocation purposes, even while you intend to organize and caucus with the other 23 elected Republican members of the Senate.”

One particular sore point for the Democrats is that the GOP essentially proposed having a 12 to 7 majority on the powerful rules committee, when Tom and Sheldon are included. The rules committee largely controls which bills move to the Senate floor for a vote.

Tom on Monday responded to Murray telling him that change is coming regardless and it would make things easier if the Democrats would cooperate.

“When the 2013 session convenes on January 14 of next year, the members of our Majority Coalition Caucus will take the steps necessary to begin function as the Senate’s majority caucus,” Tom wrote.

“We believe it would be best for the institution … if the current majority would accommodate our incoming majority,” he wrote. “The alternative would be to risk the very chaos you have publicly warned might accompany a change in the Senate majority.”

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