OLYMPIA — Will the Roadkill Caucus be reborn in 2017?
This is not idle conversation as the approaching legislative session could be epic in its length and partisanship with power evenly divided between the Democratic and Republican parties.
Nearly six years ago, centrist Democratic lawmakers banded together in hopes of injecting moderate policies and a moderating tone into partisan-fueled policy debates.
Calling themselves the Roadkill Caucus — a reference to getting run over by the far right and far left of the two political parties — its members earned their way into many critical conversations on budget and policy.
It pretty much disbanded in 2012 when two of its members in the Senate joined forces with Republicans to give the GOP control of that chamber. Things haven’t been quite the same in the Legislature since.
There may be an effort to launch a version of Roadkill 2.0 next year, at least in the Senate. That’s where Republicans hold a 25-24 edge on Democrats and, thanks to elections and retirements, there should be 12 new faces in place when the session starts in January.
“Moderates in the minority are ready to make a deal,” said state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, an original Roadkill founder. “Are minorities in the majority willing to buck the system to find common ground?”
Guy Palumbo of Maltby, a newly-elected Democratic senator, said he’s open to joining.
“The reality is with a one-vote split it does empower moderates on both sides of the aisle. They can drive the agenda if they choose to,” he said. “Compromise is not a dirty word in my book.”
It may be the only word by the time the 2017 session ends.
A week ago I characterized Republican Sam Low’s lead pending defeat of Democratic Snohomish County Councilman Hans Dunshee as a mild surprise, inciting phone calls from a few folks wondering if I had missed the significance of the accomplishment.
I didn’t. Given Low won the primary, it didn’t seem a huge surprise to see him leading after one round of ballot counting.
Let’s be clear: Low’s victory is one of the biggest Republican wins and ranks among the biggest political upsets in the state this election season.
Low entered the race largely unknown outside Lake Stevens where he is president of the City Council. Early on, even the Snohomish County Republican Party seemed tentative in its embrace of his chances. It provided technical support in contacting voters but didn’t contribute to Low’s campaign until mid-October.
Dunshee entered the contest as one of the best known of Snohomish County’s political class. He had won 10 straight elections as a state lawmaker with his last loss coming in 1994 to Republican John Koster. Dunshee left Olympia as one of the most powerful of the 147 state lawmakers for a seat on the five-person county council.
Dunshee contends a rogue wave of Donald Trump supporters abetted his defeat though a precinct analysis of votes suggests otherwise. His own misreading of the electoral tea leaves is likely the larger factor.
The council district is made up of voters in the 44th Legislative District, which Dunshee has represented for years, and the 39th Legislative District, which he hasn’t. Support from voters routinely swings between Democratic and Republican candidates. Four years ago they went Republican for governor.
Thus Dunshee needed to excel in communities where many people had never marked a ballot for him. As many state lawmakers find when they run for local office, raising money to win over such voters can be difficult. Dunshee hauled in $172,000 in for his 2014 re-election to the Legislature yet only $91,000 for this race. Low nearly matched him with $82,300.
Will there be a rematch in a year? Dunshee hasn’t said. Low’s ready.
“If Hans wants to run against me again, that’s fine,” he said.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @dospueblos.