For the second time, Democrats who won the most votes in one chamber of a state legislature will not actually run the chamber, thanks to conservative dissidents who swung the balance of power to the other side. We already saw this kind of power-sharing arrangement in the New York State Senate, and now we’re seeing the same thing in the Washington State Senate.
Senate Republicans announced today they have formally reached a deal with Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon (of the 48th and 35th Districts, respectively) to run Washington’s Senate for the next two years, which means that Democrats will be in the minority for the first time since the 2006 session.
At a press conference in Olympia, Tom and Sheldon confirmed that they have signed an agreement to form a “Senate Majority Coalition Caucus” which will consist of the two of them plus the twenty-three Republican senators. The Republicans have all agreed to allow Tom to serve as their majority leader and Sheldon to serve as the Senate’s president pro tempore. (The president pro tempore presides when the Lieutenant Governor is not available to run the Senate).
In return for getting these plum assignments as Majority Leader and president pro tem,
Sens. Tom and Sheldon allowed Republicans to set up committee assignments for the state Senate. And not surprisingly, Republicans took committees like Ways and Means (essentially the main budget and tax-writing committee), Commerce and Labor, Education, Government Operations and Health Care for themselves. In other words, all of the main budgetary committees for states. Incoming Democratic Governor Jay Inslee will now have to contend with Republicans to get his budget passed, despite the election results.
The unifying thread here, I think, is that power-hungry conservative Democrats in New York and Washington saw the opportunity to aggrandize their own power at the expense of their party. They obviously believe they will never face sanction for this, either from the party apparatus or their voters. In New York, the state Senate has pretty much always been dysfunctional, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has basically engineered things so that Republicans will keep control of the Senate, and therefore a “check” on power he doesn’t want to use. In Washington, the top-two primary structure makes it very hard to dislodge incumbents, who can almost always make it into the final two.
So this enables opportunists to essentially defy the will of the voters and set up operations as they see fit, for maximum political influence for themselves. It’s pretty sad.