Roadkill Caucus largely gets its way in Olympia

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Sunday, May 29, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

In Washington state’s Parliament this year, the minority party ruled on the most important matters.

Frequently in the regular and special sessions, conservatives hunkered down on one side of a potent issue and liberals dug in on the other.

Neither alliance could succeed unless it coalesced with those in the Roadkill Caucus, a collection of moderates more accustomed to getting run over than courted by the political left and right.

Bipartisanship is what the governor and legislative leaders called it. Governing by coalition, like one might see in a parliamentary system, is a more apt description.

Moderates, all business-friendly Democrats, arrived in January determined to make their influence felt by behaving as their own bloc.

They succeeded in the Senate. Democrats outnumbered Republicans but when this group united with the minority Republican caucus it created a philosophical majority which ruled with a strong, and at times intractable, hand to the final day.

The moderates shifted the balance of power by switching sides. They forced their caucus’s leaders to do things they didn’t intend to do, like letting Republicans write chunks of the budget.

Similarly, they forced changes in the 100-year-old workers compensation system. In the Senate, moderate Democrats locked arms with Republicans in wanting lump sum buyouts added as an option. Together they resolved not to concede to the liberal Democrats running the House — a stance which arguably forced the special session.

Over time, and through hours of negotiation, they eventually secured a compromise which gets their foot in the door for bringing voluntary settlements into the system.

But down the stretch, this philosophical majority governing the Senate had its limits tested when on one issue Republicans dug in a bit deeper than their moderate teammates wanted.

It happened in a fight over whether to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot dealing with the state’s debt. Republicans insisted on its passage before they’d condone any action on the operating budget.

Most House Democrats opposed the ballot measure. These liberals felt the Senate coalition had won enough political points this session and weren’t going to get this one, too.

A stand-off ensued, threatening to push lawmakers into a second special session, until a few of those roadkill members made known they weren’t in lockstep with their GOP mates. That helped push along a compromise.

Where do these moderates go from here? Will they draft an agenda of their own or be content to team up with one side or the other, depending on the issue?

Next year’s big battle is going to be transportation. A revenue-raising measure will be prepared for the ballot. It will be a difficult fight and probably pretty partisan.

Members of the Roadkill Caucus will almost certainly be casting the decisive votes on which taxes or fees are in the package.

Knowing this, liberals and conservatives should start building bridges with them. There are only seven months to go before Washington’s Parliament, er Legislature, reconvenes.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623 or

Talk to us

More in Local News

An Everett police officer and a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a man Saturday, March 11, 2023, in the 800 block of 91st Place SW in Everett. (Everett Police Department)
Everett man killed in Saturday police shooting identified

Charles Hubbard, 58, was shot and killed by SWAT team members when they responded to a domestic violence call.

WSDOT workers open up the Smokey Point Rest Area on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Massive amount’ of homeless RV camping closed Smokey Point rest area

Since November, 38 homeless people were identified through outreach. Six have accepted housing offers with case management.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Mountlake Terrace leaders weighing federal ARPA fund options

Bathrooms, body cameras, generators, radios, roadwork, roof replacement, sidewalks, trails and more loom for the $4.5 million.

Dominic Wilson looks at his mother while she addresses the court during his sentencing at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Grief remains after sentencing of Marysville teen’s killers

Dominic Wilson must serve 17½ years in prison, while his accomplice Morzae Roberts was given a sentence of four years.

Former Opus Bank/Cascade Bank building in downtown Everett on Thursday, March 16, 2023 in Everett, Washington. It is proposed as the new home of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Economic Alliance asks Everett for $300K to move downtown

The countywide chamber of commerce and economic development organization also would reform the Everett chamber.

The Washington State University Everett campus on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
WSU ends search to buy land for future branch campus in Everett

The university had $10M to spend. It tried for four years but couldn’t close deals with Everett’s housing authority or the city.

Marysville man dies after motorcycle crash on Ingraham Boulevard

The man, 58, was heading east when he lost control in the single-vehicle crash, according to police.

Mukilteo Coffee Roasters co-owners Beth and Gary Smith in 2017. (Kyle Jensen / South Whidbey Record)
Mukilteo coffee roaster, 69, had personality as big as ‘thunderstorm’

“I knew at the first sip that this is what I wanted to do,” Gary Smith said. The founder of Mukilteo Coffee Roasters died this month.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Predict A Pen goes missing, a Republican wins a poll and a budget arrives

It’s Day 68. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature.

Most Read