GOP needs to lead on transportation

As someone who spent more than a few years tending to the state’s transportation needs, I have been extremely disappointed by the Senate Republicans’ failure to pass a transportation revenue package in either of the past two legislative sessions. During my final year in the Senate, in 2012, we were all well aware of the growing need for additional transportation revenue and knew it would need to be a priority in 2013.

That the Senate has not addressed this need is dismaying. That Senate Republicans have publicly blamed their failure on Democrats is nothing less than a shirking of their responsibilities as lawmakers.

First of all, their caucus is in the majority; they have had the votes to push through anything they like. For them to whine about the minority caucus blocking their actions is akin to a schoolyard bully complaining that the little kid on the playground won’t hand over his lunch money. The only people accountable for a failure to pass Republican policy are Sen. Rodney Tom and the Republicans.

Second, transportation used to be a bipartisan committee. No matter who was chair, we always understood that roads and bridges and buses and ferries weren’t the property of Republicans or Democrats; all Washingtonians need and deserve reliable transportation regardless of political affiliation. But that tradition evaporated after Sen. Tom cut his backroom deal to join the Republicans in exchange for being named majority leader. Since then, the transportation needs of Washington have become a political football for Senate Republicans. And that’s a disservice to motorists who expect safe roads and to businesses that need to move freight efficiently and reliably.

The hypocrisy of today’s Senate Republicans — and I include Sen. Tom and Sen. Tim Sheldon in this bunch because, really, though they call themselves Democrats, they have voted in lockstep with the Republicans on every critical vote for the past two years — is that they want to dictate what’s in the budget but they don’t want to vote for it. At one point in the past session, they unveiled a transportation revenue proposal that had eight confirmed votes from their caucus plus claims of support from five more Republicans who lacked the courage to sign their names to it. That was 13 out of 26, less than a majority of their caucus, and that was assuming the phantom five actually existed. More recently, they introduced a proposal sponsored by just two of their 26 members.

Here’s a reality check for Sen. Tom and the Republicans. In all the years I served in the House and in the Senate, whether my party was in the majority or the minority, everyone understood that the party in the majority had to provide the majority of the votes. That’s called leadership. It’s what the voters expect of the people they elect to represent them.

I just don’t see that today’s Republican leaders are up to the task. I worked hand in hand with some impressive Republicans in my day, and I was proud to do so. Where is the integrity of people like Gene Prince and George Sellar and Dan Swecker? Or the ability to work and compromise like Jim Horn? Or the courage of Joyce Mulliken, a very conservative Republican from Moses Lake who voted for a transportation package because she recognized its importance to her district? We’re talking about integrity, courage and compromise.

But to listen to the current Senate Republicans, today’s transportation gridlock is the fault of Sen. Tracey Eide and the Democrats. And nothing could be more disingenuous. The plain truth of the matter is that Sen. Tom and the Republicans could have done whatever they wanted to do. With a 26-vote majority, they could have called any bill to the floor at any time and passed any bill they liked. Their problem is they needed to quit whining and start voting.

I always said the easiest vote was “no” and the toughest votes were “yes.” The Senate Republicans need to figure out what they stand for and vote for it. Real leaders don’t point fingers, they lead.

Mary Margaret Haugen was the chair or ranking member of the Senate Transportation Committee for 18 of the 20 years she served in the Senate.

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