With the vote this afternoon in a private meeting of Democrats in SeaTac, Seattle Sen. Ed Murray takes over one of the top positions in the state, making him the first openly gay leader of one of Washington’s partisan caucuses and the only gay Senate leader in the country, Democrats say.
Murray was the only candidate to replace outgoing Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown.
The results of an election in Clark County could decide how much authority Murray wields. Republican Sen. Don Benton is leading his tight re-election battle by 65 votes over Rep. Tim Probst, according to new returns today — and if he wins, conservative Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon would have the power to join with Republicans and elect their own preferences for the committees that normally are designated by the majority leadership.
Sheldon even calls for electing a “coalition” majority leader — although that’s trickier. Nothing would allow the Senate as a whole to overrule the choice of Murray by the party caucus. The Senate basically can govern itself as it wishes, though, so it could designate someone else to have many of the responsibilities that are slated to go to Murray.
Either way, Murray’s ascent to majority leader is the latest step in a 17-year legislative career full of accomplishments: spearheading gay-rights laws that banned discrimination, ensured benefits to partners and this year recognized same-sex marriages; writing the House transportation budget and later the main Senate budget.
Here’s Democrats’ news release:
Sen. Ed Murray elected new Senate majority leader
OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats selected Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, as the new state Senate majority leader during a caucus meeting Tuesday. Murray’s colleagues elected him by acclamation; the position was uncontested.
“We have work to do in Olympia – prioritizing education, creating jobs for the middle class, and ensuring Washingtonians have the health care they need. And one of our challenges in a closely divided chamber is to ensure that the Senate is able to fulfill its obligation to govern the state, in tandem with Gov.-elect Jay Inslee and the House. These are not simple challenges, but they are solvable. We can find solutions that work for all of Washington,” said Murray.
Murray was the prime sponsor of Washington’s marriage equality law, which voters upheld this year through Referendum 74. With his election, he becomes the first openly gay caucus leader in state history and the only openly gay state Senate leader currently serving in the nation.
He previously served as chair of the budget-writing Senate Ways & Means Committee, and led the writing of the first truly bipartisan state budget in memory.
In the coming legislative session, Murray will take on a role filled for a decade by Sen. Lisa Brown of Spokane. On Tuesday, Brown offered her support.
“I have congratulated Sen. Murray on his election as majority leader and offered my assistance. He has done a fantastic job during the course of his 17 years in Olympia, and we have accomplished a great deal together. Under Sen. Murray’s leadership, the Democratic Caucus is well-positioned to continue to provide support for the people of Washington,” Brown said.
Murray has represented the 43rd District in Seattle since 1995, when he was elected to the House, where he later served during a 49-49 tie between political parties. As chair of the House Transportation Committee, he negotiated the 2003 and 2005 transportation construction packages, the first new revenue package and major construction measures in 13 years and the largest investment in Washington’s transportation infrastructure in the state’s history.
In 2006, while still serving in the House, Murray also successfully sponsored a bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, capping a 30-year effort by the gay and lesbian community.