(Updated with clarifying information at end of original post)
Republicans controlling the Senate majority flexed their political muscle today and in the process may have repelled a centrist Democrat known for siding with them on key government reforms.
The Majority Coalition Caucus voted to demote Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens as chairman of the Senate Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee and make him share leadership duties with Republican Sen. Jan Angel.
All 26 members of the coalition approved the move while the 23 members of the minority Democratic caucus opposed it.
Today, before the vote, Hobbs appealed to moderate Republicans to break ranks with their caucus leadership to support him – just as he had gone against his caucus to help them pass reforms of worker compensation and education in 2013.
“I hope you stand with me” and vote against the move, he said in a floor speech.
It didn’t work and afterwards he said it appeared moderates had caved into the right-wing in the caucus.
But Hobbs said moderate Republicans can demonstrate independence if they will help pass the Dream Act, which would make immigrant students eligible for state financial aid, and a transportation package. He hinted strongly he might not support coalition reform bills this session until the Senate acts on those measures.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll work together,” he said.
A Majority Coalition Caucus leader rejected Hobbs’ insinuations that politics drove the decision.
“This is not a political move,” said Sen. Linda Parlette, R-Wenatchee, who is chairwoman of the caucus.
Angel, of Port Orchard, has worked in the banking and insurance industries and is a perfect fit for the committee. She was elected to the Senate in November.
“We are taking advantage of the talents one of our members has,” she said.
When asked why the decision didn’t come prior to the start of the session, she said: “We didn’t even talk about these things before the session began.”
Until today, Hobbs and Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, had been the only Democrats holding chairmanships in the Senate. Hatfield is leader of the Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee. (NOTE: The Majority Coalition Caucus did offer committee chairmanships to eight Democrats in January 2013 and only Hobbs and Hatfield accepted.)