Why lawmakers took so long for a last-minute finish

  • Wed Apr 11th, 2012 8:21pm
  • News

By Jerry Cornfield Herald Columnist

No doubt a few punch-drunk and sleep-deprived lawmakers departed Olympia on Wednesday feeling a tad melancholic about not seeing their colleagues for a while.

More than likely most of them left glad to get a break from one another for an extended period.

With a 60-day regular session sandwiched between special sessions in December and March, these guys and gals spent a lot of time together and not all of it happy.

Some days, toxicity readings in the House and Senate hovered in the red, broaching meltdown level.

Yet, when the dust did settle, several bills that prompted fierce skirmishes did pass comfortably.

Look at the Senate. In March, all hell broke loose when three rogue Democrats joined 22 Republicans to take over the chamber in order to pass a GOP-crafted spending plan as well as budget and pension reforms on a 25-24 vote.

Following the coup, the chamber filled with tension right up until adjournment. Yet early Wednesday, in one of their final actions, Democratic and Republican senators approved a budget. The vote: 44-2.

Such unanimity begs the question of what was the fight in regular and special session all about for them and for the entire Legislature.

Was it an honest collision of philosophies with progressives pitted against reformers? A war of political wills? Or was it about the election in November with Republicans and Democrats testing messages they and their party’s gubernatorial torchbearer could assimilate in their campaigns?

A little of everything, depending on which lawmaker you asked and post-mortem press release you read.

Consider the headline super-lefty Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, used on her statement about a pension reform bill that was one of the legislative linchpins of the session: “This isn’t reforming government, this is deforming government.”

She was just getting started.

“Senate Republicans seem to measure the effectiveness of their reform ideas based on how many people they will hurt. Real reform requires hard work and tough decisions. Real reform would be something like updating our antiquated and regressive tax structure.”

Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, wagged his finger only slightly less in his printed post-session commentary.

“Looking at the final budget agreement, it sure looks a heckuva lot like the proposal Senate Democrats put forth way back in February. It makes me wonder if all the ninth order nonsense and political posturing was really necessary.”

Across the aisle, Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, a mastermind of the March uprising, ran a victory lap in his breakdown of the 2012 sessions.

“Our side came in saying we wanted to act on reforms before we would even consider revenue,” he said. “We will leave having accomplished that.”

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, one of the Democrats in the Senate alliance, said in an interview he didn’t think campaign strategy figured into the behavior of lawmakers.

It was a fundamental shift in how the Senate transacted business, he said.

“We as majority party have had our way for eight years and it’s tough when that is no longer the case,” he said. “Going to the ninth order (the procedural moved used to pass the budget) was a pretty strong statement.

When asked what was it all about these past weeks, Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, replied: “That’s a good question.”

He and the rest of the lawmakers now have some time apart to contemplate the answer.

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