Hello Loyal Readers,
People seemed to really like my simple explanation I posted last week titled, “Why is the County Breaking the Law?“. Building on that, I would like to offer a simple explanation about what is going on in Olympia. Some of you might have heard that some sort of Republican coup happened and there is a “power-sharing” agreement. Let me break it down for you.
The Basics: This year, Washington State elected a Democratic state house, a Democratic governor, almost universally Democratic state officials (Treasurer, Attorney General, etc) and . . . a narrowly divided Senate. When all the ballots were totaled up, there was 25 Democratic senators, and 24 Republican senators. Normally this would lead to them electing Ed Murray (D-future Seattle Mayor) as the Senate Majority leader and business would carry on as usual but . . .
Last Year: When the Democrats were trying to pass their budget, three Democratic senators flipped sides at the eleventh hour to pass the Republican budget rather than the Democratic one that had been discussed, debated and negotiated. It was covered by my guest writer, the Legislative Junkie, here. This meant that the budget that was passed had to be a compromise between the Democratic House budget, and the now Republican Senate budget. After that brutal bit of legislative negotiating, the three Democratic turncoats went home for break. Two of them (Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom) ran for reelection as Democrats and won, while one (Jim Kastama) sought higher office and lost. So he packed up his bags and went home leaving his two buddies behind.
This Upcoming Year: As I mentioned above, there are 25 Democratic senators and 24 Republicans, but the two turncoats realized that actually the breakdown is more like 2 turncoats, 23 Democrats and 24 Republicans. Realizing their power and influence, they started making some rumblings about throwing the power to the Republicans. Ed Murray, the expected majority leader, tried to head this off by appointing one of them, Tim Sheldon, Democratic lead on the powerful Rules committee. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon said, “naaah, I’m going for the big seat.” and are negotiating with the Republicans to appoint Rodney Tom the Senate Majority leader with a whole series of “power-sharing agreements” where Republicans would head up some committees and Democrats would head up others and some committees would be “co-chaired”. This potential arrangement included a bone tossed to our own Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Awesomesauce), possibly putting him in co-charge of the Energy and Natural Resource committee, a plum assignment for a strong environmentalist like Ranker. Ranker however soundly rejected it in favor of a strong statement of his Democratic values (you can read the full text here).
So Why is this a Bad Thing? The way bills move through a legislative body is heavily reliant on cooperation by all the different parts. The majority leader has to set the schedule to that the bill gets a proper reading, and then it has to be sent to the right committee. That committee has to then work on it and pass it back to the body as a whole. It then needs to be scheduled for a vote and hopefully no one along that process needs to add an amendment, and that’s just the basics. If it involves taxes or funding a program, you are looking at another trip through committees or a joint resolution or all sorts of legislative backflips. Usually this chaotic process functions because one party controls all the functions for that legislative body. The majority leadership sets the agenda, works with their chairs of committees and in general manages the flow. The minority party can raise objections, and at times, derail a bill, but they can rarely propose legislation. Having a “co-chair” system will mean there are two competing teams of people trying to get things passed and most likely, it would be a miserable experience for all involved.
Confused? Time for a brief metaphor. Imagine you are a chef in a fancy restaurant. You think the special for tonight should be pork chops with applesauce and a side of brussel sprouts. Normally, this is no problem. You direct the prep cooks to chop the brussel sprouts, you direct the assistant chefs to prepare the applesauce and you prep the pork chops. Except, tonight the chef that was supposed to be work tomorrow comes in, and says that the special should be Alfredo Chicken. Next thing you know, you go to start cooking the Pork Chops and there is Alfredo Sauce sitting there ready to go along side your brussel sprouts. You either have to start prepping some Chicken or tell the assistants to make the applesauce. Either way, it will be costly, inefficient and tons of trouble. Two competing teams lead to disjointed products. Even if you agreed with other chef, you probably aren’t best at making Alfredo Chicken, and you had already prepped all this applesauce. You get the idea.
What Happens Next: Nothing is final until the start of the new year. Ed Murray has signaled that the Senate Democrats would rather be a strong and vocal minority under a normal arrangement than some sort of parliamentary Frankenstein. This hands the ball back into the Republicans court. Do they want to trust the turncoat Democrat Rodney Tom to shepherd through their agenda, or do they want to gamble on pushing for a full Republican majority and hope Tom doesn’t jump ship. This whole ordeal just shows that having power and wielding it successfully are two very different skills.
Now you know a little bit more about what is going on in Olympia. If these style posts continue to be quite popular, let me know by sharing it on facebook or in the comments below and I’ll make them more of a regular feature on The Political Junkie. After all, we are approaching a new year with a fresh set of challenges and innovations.