Washington Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown will be leaving office at the end of her term this year. Who her successor will be depends on a lot — including whether Democrats can hold onto their majority.
SEATTLE — Last week, State Senator Lisa Brown (D) of the 3rd district announced she will not be running for reelection in the fall and will let her term expire at the end of the year. Brown has represented the Spokane area as State Senator since 1997.
As I read her statement on her decision to leave office, I wondered: Who will take over Brown’s spot after she leaves? But honestly, I also wondered: What does a Majority Leader do anyway?
There is no definitive answer for the first question. No one who’s in the know is willing to speculate at this point, including Brown herself, who says she wants to stay away from endorsing any of her potential successors.
“I’ll let people put their names in a hat,” she said.
The fact is it’s not even clear whether Democrats will be able to keep their majority in the Senate come November.
Half of the 49 seats are up for re-election this year, and the Republicans only need to pick up three of those to gain the majority. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt didn’t respond to requests for comment about how confident he and fellow Republicans are that they’ll gain the majority.
Brown, though, said she was confident the Democrats will hold their lead.
“Senate Democrats are well-positioned to lead the state,” wrote Brown in a statement. “We’re very well positioned in tough districts like Vancouver… [and] East King County,” she told me over the phone.
Brown says her days can get very long during the legislative session. With meetings first thing in the morning and throughout the day, she says she barely has time to squeeze in an hour to work out. It’s definitely not a nine-to-five job during session.
“But it balances out,” said Brown. Once the session is over, the workload gets lighter.
Currently, Brown says she’s involved in her party’s campaign activities but she has flexibility in her schedule and can choose what she wants to do.
Unlike the Washington Speaker of the House–currently Democrat Frank Chopp–a Majority Leader in the Senate does not preside over the floor. That role is taken by the Lieutenant Governor–Brad Owen–just like the role the Vice President plays in the U.S. Senate.
The Majority Leader plays a key role in the budget negotiating process and after twenty years in office, Brown says that it is still a difficult task that just gets harder with the current state of economy. She said this past session was especially difficult.
“It wasn’t necessarily because of the roadkill,” she said referring to the Democratic Senators who jumped ship to vote for the Republican budget proposal. “The main source was the economy and the recession.”
Whatever her reason for leaving, there will be plenty of others hungry to pick up the job next session. But the real discussion on who will be the next conductor of the political orchestra in the Washington State Senate can only start after the majority party is decided this fall.