Sheldon’s decision allows Democrats to maintain slim majority

By HUNTER T. GEORGE

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — After a week of soul-searching, maverick state Sen. Tim Sheldon said today he will stick with the Democratic Party, which is hanging onto a one-vote majority as election returns roll in.

Sheldon, a conservative Democrat from the Mason County town of Potlatch, said last week he was considering switching allegiance to the Republicans, which would have given the GOP a one-vote majority, or becoming an Independent, which would have left the parties in a tie.

But Sheldon decided to stay put after a meeting of Senate Democrats on Sunday. He and Senate Majority Leader Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach, emphasized that no promises had been made by either side.

"I’m not doing anything for reward or advancement of any kind," Sheldon said at a news conference in the Democrats’ caucus room outside the Senate chamber.

Instead, Sheldon said he has learned that he must be more supportive of urban Democrats’ issues. He said urban and rural Democrats "understand each other better" after Sunday’s discussion.

Senate Minority Leader James West, R-Spokane, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sheldon, whose four-year term expires in 2003, has often disagreed with Democratic Party leaders on environmental and tax issues.

He said he endorsed Republican U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton for re-election and voted for Texas Gov. George W. Bush for president. He hosted a fund-raiser for Republican Doug Sutherland, who defeated Democrat Mike Lowry in the lands commissioner race.

Last week, Sheldon said he feared what bills might pass if Democrats control the Senate, House and governor’s office.

Gov. Gary Locke was re-elected in a landslide, but Democrats are still waiting to see if they were successful in breaking the 49-49 tie in the House. They hold a 50-48 advantage as absentee ballots roll in, but some races are so close that Republicans might be able to salvage another tie or even grab a slim majority.

The Democratic majority in the Senate appears to be shrinking from 27-22 to 25-24.

Democratic sources said Snyder and Sheldon had been talking about the possibility of giving Sheldon a committee chairmanship or some other perk.

But both lawmakers denied it today.

"We made no commitments at all to Senator Sheldon," Snyder said.

Sheldon, accompanied by his 16-year-old daughter Alex, said it was a difficult decision. He said many of his constituents called him at home, with most urging him to stick with the Democrats. He said he also was called by Republican Sens. Harold Hochstatter of Moses Lake, Bob Morton of Orient and Alex Deccio of Yakima.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who also was a maverick Democrat when he represented Sheldon’s district, recommended that Sheldon keep trying to work with Democrats, Sheldon said.

Sheldon represents the 35th legislative district, which covers Kitsap and Mason counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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