By Jerry Cornfield
Republicans in the state Senate are uniting with two conservative Democrats to seize the reins of power in the chamber in 2013.
Though Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Senate, they will be operating in the minority because Sens. Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch kept their pledge to join the GOP caucus in a new ruling majority.
Crossing the aisle paid dividends for Tom who stands to become Senate Majority Leader when the session begins Jan. 14.
Tom and Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville,insisted the Majority Coalition Caucus will share power and work cooperatively with Democrats — though they didn’t inform any Democratic leaders of their specific goals until shortly before announcing them to the public.
“I look forward to showing that in the Senate we can put policy ahead of politics and govern in a responsible and bipartisan way,” Schoesler said.
Today Democrats hold 26 seats in the chamber but the defection of Tom and Sheldon gives the new coalition a 25-24 advantage.
The coalition is proposing to have six committees led by Republicans, six committees led by Democrats and three panels in which the number of members will be evenly split among the two parties.
It intends to boot out Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, as chairwoman of the Senate education committee and replace her with Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island.
“I am shocked and I am disappointed,” said McAuliffe, who won re-election with 55 percent of the vote. “To take away my chair, that’s a takeover. That’s not a coalition.”
Things could change, she said.
“It’s a long ways to Jan. 14 and I think the public will have an opinion. I do not believe the public will support this coalition,” she said.
Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, dumped by the coalition as chairman of the Human Services and Corrections Committee, said the actions “could result in gridlock and a very challenging session.”
But he remained optimistic the two parties can work out a better power-sharing arrangement.
“Ultimately, the government needs to work,” he said. This coalition “is not a cooperative approach and doesn’t appear it will yield any more cooperation than what they criticize they are trying to get away from.
“They are trying to act like they are apolitical and transcended the two-party system but clearly they are the Republican Party pushing the Republican agenda,” he said.
Meanwhile, state representatives are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
“You deal with the cards that you are dealt with,” said state Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett. “One party has won and the other one is taking control by these machinations. It is what it is. I think (Democratic senators) were under the illusion that they had won the election.”