Possible coalition could guide state Senate in 2013

OLYMPIA — The Republican leader of the state Senate announced Friday he is stepping down from his leadership post as talk heats up about a possible union of GOP members and moderate Democrats to guide the chamber in 2013.

State Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said he won’t seek another term as leader of the caucus, a position he’s held since December 2005, though he will continue to serve in the Legislature.

“This is the right time for me to step back and encourage a new model of leadership in the state Senate,” he said in a prepared statement. “I want to promote new Senate leadership from the center. Focusing on centrist policy rather than party labels is what will make the people of Washington a winner.”

Hewitt also cited “health challenges” as a factor in his decision. He underwent surgery in April to remove a thymoma tumor.

The news arrived amid growing signs his caucus may grow to 23 members following the election and team with conservative Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch in a new coalition.

“There have been lots of conversations,” Tom said Friday, adding that Hewitt’s decision has “absolutely nothing” to do with the talk of a coalition.

“Both Tim and I have been very clear in that we want a more centralist methodology in the state Senate,” he said. “Whatever it takes to accomplish that so be it. The current structure isn’t going to get us there.”

Right now, Democrats outnumber Republicans 27-22 in the chamber.

But the GOP could gain one more seat depending on the outcome of the contest between Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, in the 17th Legislative District. Benton led by 96 votes Friday.

If that happens, Republicans could join with the two Democrats to control the Senate and decide everything from who will run committees to what bills are voted on. If they band together, they would likely do so on the first day of session, Jan. 13.

Something similar happened in March. Republicans seized control of the chamber when three Democrats, including Tom and Sheldon, crossed over to help pass budget and reform bills. The maneuver caused a deep rift in the chamber that was never fully repaired through the regular and special sessions.

Such talk now of a similar-style coup isn’t sitting well with the newly elected leader of the majority Democrats, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

He said he spoke Tuesday with Tom and Sheldon — who both supported him as caucus leader — and neither indicated they wanted to form a separate coalition.

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” Murray said. “Certainly they have concerns but I did not hear them say they were going to throw out the Senate rules on the first day of session.”

Democrats will continue working on the selection of committee chairmen and leaders of the caucus, he said.

Democrats and Republicans in the House chose their leaders Friday with far less tumult.

Democrats re-elected House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, while Republicans re-elected House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, was re-elected chairman of the Republican caucus for a third term.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Agencies launch coordinated response to an opioid ‘emergency’

Health workers, law enforcement agencies and emergency managers are responding as they might to a disaster.

Jordan Evers distributes coffee Sunday afternoon during the annual community meal at Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett on November 19, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Firefighters serve Thanksgiving meals at Carl Gipson center

The next two feasts at the senior center in Everett will be Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 3.

Pair charged with first-degree robbery in marijuana theft

A man was shot in the head during a holdup that was supposed to net about an ounce of pot.

Planning — and patience — can ease Thanksgiving travel

The Washington State Department of Transportation offers information to help guide planning.

Puffy-coated robbery suspect arrested on Whidbey

The suspect apparently wore the same outfit in 2 robberies at the same place in less than 2 weeks.

Injection sites still banned — County Council doesn’t budge

At a public hearing, more than 15 people said they are opposed to sanctioned areas for using heroin.

Dog shot at Mountlake Terrace house during burglary

A suspect was arrested Friday in Everett for investigation of burglary and first-degree animal cruelty.

Arlington flooding prompts warning to stay off Highway 530

The Stillaguamish River spilled its banks with 6 inches of water over the road Wednesday morning.

Alleged philanderer attacked with hammer near Everett

His girlfriend had accused him of cheating and allegedly called on another man to confront him.

Most Read