Schoesler is state’s new GOP Senate majority leader

OLYMPIA — The state Senate Monday gained its first Republican majority leader in a decade.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, was elected by the Republican-run Majority Coalition Caucus in a meeting in Yakima to become the first GOP lawmaker in the post since Kirkland’s Bill Finkbeiner in 2004.

Schoesler, who has served as Republican leader the past two years, will succeed retiring Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, one of two Democrats in the coalition caucus.

“I’m grateful to my Senate colleagues for their vote of confidence and am eager to continue working on solutions for the people of Washington,” Schoesler said in a prepared statement.

“It’s time to govern and roll up our sleeves to find a better way to improve job growth, fund and reform education and make college more affordable,” he said. “Our focus as a coalition has always been to put people above politics.”

The 2015 session begins Jan. 12. Monday’s decision had been much anticipated as Schoesler and Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, had spent weeks competing for the top spot. Monday’s vote was not disclosed.

As majority leader, Schoesler will be the point man for the caucus, which is comprised of 25 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch.

His rise to majority leader follows an election cycle in which he helped raise roughly $3 million to defend the caucus’ vulnerable incumbents — including Sheldon — and to gain one seat to secure outright control of the chamber.

He’ll be the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Rules Committee and be the one who usually sits down with Gov. Jay Inslee during negotiations on budget and policy matters. He phoned the governor Monday.

“Sen. Schoesler left a message for the governor, letting him know that he is looking forward to working with the governor in the coming session,” said Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Inslee.

Schoesler was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1993 and the Senate in 2004. He is a fifth-generation dryland wheat farmer on land his family has been farming since the 1880s, according to his legislative website.

Meanwhile, on Monday the coalition did not decide whether to continue to share power with Democrats on some committees.

Right now, two committees are run jointly by a Republican and a Democrat and one has a Democratic chairman. A spokeswoman for the caucus said the committee structure will be determined later this month.

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

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