Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 17, 2012

What is going on with the State Legislature?

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 . . .

Ed Murray

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.

Rodney Tom

Rodney Tom

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.



  1. If we could take this one step further, I would be interested to hear what you think the implications of this decision will be. This year is a big budget year as well as Jay Inslee’s first go at governor. Do you think the leg will play it safe, passing a budget with minor tweaks that don’t piss of either caucus too much, or do you see a smoldering partisan showdown in the coming months?

  2. This is great stuff, Riley. Keep the metaphors coming, buddy. Government for dummies like me.

    • You are no dummy! But a good metaphor is always helpful.

  3. […] in the style of my two recent pieces “Why is the County Breaking the Law?” and “What is going on with the State Legislature?“. If this Riley-explains-something-complicated thing is going to be a regular feature than […]

  4. Tim Sheldon ughhh. I live in Mason County and have watched his antics for several years as the County Commissioner. He is self-serving career politician who I wish would be voted out.
    He has cost the county money from a lawsuit for age discrimination where he himself made the inappropriate comments. This lawsuit also required that all county employees attend training which he did not complete.
    He promoted a biomass plant that he and his family would benefit financially from.
    He pushed for a raise when he had missed nearly 1/3 of the commissioner meetings do to other obligations, most people would lose their job for this behavior.
    I can go on, but the point is this man is only in it for himself and could careless about what is best for this state or our county……….

    • sorry about the grammar…. “due to other…”

  5. […] the potential “power-sharing agreement” proposed for the State Senate. You can read my Keep it Simple Sweeney explanation of the messy state senate here. Ranker drafted an editorial for Crosscut that laid into the potential arrangement. “Senate […]

  6. […] more entertaining news, it has only been a couple of days, but the new Republican majority in our state senate has already stepped in it. They have appointed mercurial Republican senator Pam […]

  7. […] title?) worked with a handful of other active students to have all participants call Jay Inslee and majority leader Sen. Rodney Tom’s office and urge them to support a capital gains tax that would dedicate $175 million to higher […]

  8. […] they have reasonable cause to believe a child has suffered such abuse. The bill sailed through the contentious senate unanimously and received an overwhelming eighty-four yes votes in the house. Naturally, Rep. […]

  9. […] year the big question is potential conflict with the Republican-controlled senate (for a simple explanation of what happened, read this). I asked Morris which area of public policy would be affected most by the GOP takeover. He thought […]

  10. […] Parity Act (RPA) and the state DREAM act both died in committee. What happened was that Democratic turncoat made majority leader Rodney Tom had promised to support both bill, however he sent them to committees chair by conservative […]

  11. […] month of work. This “special session” is a result of the tense relationship between the Republican-controlled senate and the House Democrats who are both lobbying hard for their own version of the budget. If you tune […]

  12. […] after adjourning the Republican-controlled senate, lead by former Democrat Sen. Rodney Tom, gave perhaps one of the weirdest press conferences I have seen in a long while. Sen. Tom seemed […]

  13. […] from the 40th, Sen. Kevin Ranker, who spoke at length about the difficulties of legislating after two democratic turncoats joined with the Republicans to put the Democrats in the minority. “It is one thing when you lose at the ballot box, when […]

  14. […] it Simple, Sweeney: Still confused by the fight over the Growth Management Act? Befuddled by what happened to the State Legislature this year? Wondering why Gun Safety is so difficult to get passed? I break it down for […]

  15. […] Provided Sen. Ericksen decides to run for reelection, he will still be in the crosshairs. With the balance of the State Senate hanging by a thread, the 42nd legislative district (north Bellingham to the Canadian border) is now considered a swing […]

  16. […] the Democrats tragically and suddenly lost control of the State Senate thanks to a pair of Democratic turncoats, allowing the Republicans to block legislation and gut […]

  17. […] big breakthrough was when the Senate Majority Caucus, otherwise known as the Republican minority with the two Democratic turncoats, put forth a set of proposals that included a gas tax increase […]

  18. A great deal of time and energy is wasted when not all of the parts sync.

    By planting to attract beneficial insects and to
    detract from others it eliminates the need for using man made chemicals and insect repellents, a process
    often known as companion planting. This often turns into a burden or liability in terms
    of maintenance and aesthetics.

  19. […] Kevin Ranker and the Seahawks have in common? They both know the importance of playing defense. With the State Senate in Republican hands for the last year, the outspoken Senator from the 40th has been left blocking some of the more strident pieces of […]

  20. […] Jay Inslee – Maybe. The scenario would play out like this – if Inslee overcomes the Republican-controlled senate (with some help from Whatcom), if he passes some cutting edge legislation combating climate change, […]

  21. […] drew this colossal array of electoral firepower? The fate of the state senate. Thanks to a few Democratic turncoats in 2011, the state senate has been in Republican control for the last couple of years. They used their […]

  22. […] from last year. Firstly, he was solidly in the majority – no more kowtowing to the hybrid Coalition of Republicans and turncoat Democrats, now the Republicans had a firm grasp on the chamber. Second, Ericksen owed his funders plenty of […]

  23. […] relationship had been on the rocks recently after Republicans took over the State Senate and Ranker was forced to spend most of his time at work, away from the inlet of his dreams. […]

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