Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, both fiscally conservative Democrats who have voted with Republicans on some issues in the past, announced that they had agreed to partner with the Republicans to operate the Senate. Tom, who began his political career as a moderate Republican, will be majority leader and Sheldon will be president pro temp0re. The actual elections will be on opening day of the new session, Jan. 14.
The stunning development was announced by the new coalition leaders at a televised news conference in the State Reception Room, a neutral space rather than the Republican Caucus Room.
Tom and Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said the Senate plans no tax increases, insisting that Gov.-elect Jay Inslee campaigned on that stance. Tom said the coalition will emphasize jobs, education and a sustainable budget.
Democrats, of course, were unhappy that they nominally have a majority, 26 of the 49-member Senate, and yet will have to cede power to the minority party because of the two defections. They said the coalition didn’t negotiate power-sharing and that it could lead to chaos and a standoff with the Democratic-controlled House and governor.
The Democrats said:
“We are concerned that trying to establish an unprecedented, untested, uncertain philosophical majority structure on the first day of the legislative session could bring the institution to a halt.”
The Democrats’ previously elected leader, Ed Murray of Seattle, said:
“We don’t believe the Republicans’ take-it-or-leave-it plan offers the right way forward. We remain hopeful that Republicans will be open to negotiations to ensure the full functioning of the Senate.”
The coalition did give some committee power to the Democrats, although the most powerful committee chairs will go to the Republicans — Ways and Means (Hill), Commerce & Labor (Holmquist Newby), Education (Litzow), Governmental Operations (Roach), Law & Justice (Padden), and Health Care (Becker).
Democrats were offered the chairmanships of Natural Resources & Parks, Agriculture & Water, Trade & Economic Development, Financial Institutions & Insurance, Higher Education, and Environment & Marine Waters. The coalition offered to have co-chairs for Human Services & Corrections, Transportation, and Energy & Telecommunications. Transportation and the construction budget have long been handled in a bipartisan fashion. Democrats did not immediately say whether they would take the chairmanships that were offered.