Will State Senate coalition flatten Roadkill Caucus?

Does the rise of the Senate Majority Coalition signal the fall of the Roadkill Caucus?

The caucus, an assemblage of fiscally conservative Democrats, is a shadow of its original self these days, its forces depleted by departures in the House and its leaders divided by the new politics of the Senate.

It begins this session without its former swagger. Gone is the aura it’s enjoyed as the “X factor” in the Senate, that of a group capable of swinging key votes on budget and reform bills to the side of one party or the other.

Instead, not many folks walking around the marble-lined hallways of the Capitol know who’s on the roster and what’s on the agenda. Frankly, not many care right now.

When two conservative Democrats, including Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina who is an original Roadkill member, joined the Republicans to forge a Senate majority, it sapped the caucus of much of its muscle.

“Our leverage was working within the majority caucus,” said founding member Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. “Once we go into the minority, that leverage is taken away. Maybe we have to rename ourselves to something like Main Street Caucus.”

He and co-founder Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, know the roar of the caucus is not as mighty but given the fragility of the Senate alliance, it may regain its thunder before the 105-day session ends.

“They’ll still need votes,” Hobbs said. “If Rodney Tom thinks we’re going to pass moderate, centrist policies, he’ll still need moderate, centrist Democrat votes.”

In some ways, Roadkill’s identity crisis could be viewed as a sign of its success.

Moderate Democrats united out of frustration at seeing policies they viewed as middle-of-the road run over by interests on the left and the right of the political highway.

Hatfield, Hobbs and Tom served as organizing catalysts. From the outset, they spoke dreamily of working with their friends across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion to craft fiscally responsible bills.

Now Tom is living the dream. He and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, crossed the aisle to join the Republicans in the Senate Majority Coalition. They’ve got 25 members to the 24 seats held by Democrats and Tom is their leader.

But that margin is what gives Hobbs’ confidence the remaining roadkillers could become critically relevant down the stretch.

“There will be things some conservative Republicans will not want to vote for,” Hobbs said. “There will be things some liberal Democrats will not want to vote for.”

Hobbs and Hatfield don’t view themselves as simply an insurance policy for Tom should a couple of Republicans go rogue. They figure they can shape some policies and to that end — and to the chagrin of other Democrats — they accepted offers from the coalition to serve as committee chairmen.

Both issued statements rejecting predictions they would be the next to join the coalition.

“This decision does not mean I have aligned myself with or promised anything to the Republican majority,” Hobbs said.

But their actions may help the Roadkill Caucus regain its stride should the coalition stumble.

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

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