The forever session: In which Republicans are winning

The session that would never end is still not over.

For six months — officially 168 days and counting Thursday — the state’s 147 citizen legislators and chief executive have been passing policies and playing politics.

They’re not done yet. The current special session, their third, extends through the end of July and they may need every day to achieve détente in outstanding conflicts on education and transportation bills.

A lasting impression of the 2015 Legislature will be the dominance of Senate Republicans. At times they seemed to impose their will on the legislating process and impede the desired path of the majority Democrats in the House and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

Credit Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

Under his leadership; the 26-member caucus displayed a rigid discipline and it paid off as its factions of conservatives and moderates can claim an important political victory or three this session.

They beat down a capital gains tax and beat back a low-carbon fuel standard. They warded off cap-and-trade and minimum wage. They approved a gas tax hike — more than once — and many of their members are smiling about it.

And the nation knows Senate Republicans drafted the unprecedented cut in tuition for students at public colleges and universities.

It’s hard to see how it could have turned out much better for them.

And it’s not so hard to see why it’s been a rough year for House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.

Yes, the state is putting billions of new dollars into education, child care, early learning, mental health, human services and parks. Teachers and state workers are getting raises. Tuition is going down at two- and four-year colleges. And the state is poised to put a wad of dough into public transportation.

That’s a heck of a Democratic agenda but for some Democrats it still feels a bit like defeat.

And it’s for all the reasons Senate Republicans are smiling. House Democrats couldn’t push across a minimum-wage increase, paid leave or capital gains tax. In one of the bluest and greenest states, they failed to pass any significant climate change bill. In the end, they couldn’t boost the cigarette tax to fund cancer research.

One could say House Democrats may have done better had they not overreached to start. By launching big-time policy initiatives then not voting on many of them, they didn’t force the hand of Senate Republicans.

What might negotiations have gone like had House Democrats ever passed a capital gains tax or any tax increase at all? They said it wouldn’t have mattered. GOP leaders contended Chopp never had the votes in the caucus and the speaker never proved them wrong.

The silver lining may be the 2016 elections.

Democrats can focus on the additional services for Washington’s children and seniors, disabled and poor, uninsured and mentally ill. They can talk about rising teacher pay, lower tuition and maybe the timing for new highways, expanded bus service and more bike paths.

Most voters will be pleased to hear all that. They will have forgotten this epic session ever occurred.

Unless it’s not over.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter @dospueblos

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