The political earthquake today that gives control of the state Senate to Republicans and two Democrats will reshuffle the leadership roster.
The coalition announced they would put Republicans in charge of some of the most important committees, including budget-writing Ways and Means (Andy Hill of Redmond instead of the Democrats’ pick, Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam), Education (Steve Litzow of Mercer Island replacing Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell), Commerce and Labor (Janea Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake taking over from Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle) and the judiciary or justice committee (Mike Padden of Spokane Valley replacing Adam Kline of Seattle).
Randi Becker of Eatonville, who represents parts of Pierce and Thurston counties, will replace Karen Keiser of Kent as chairwoman of the Health Care committee. That would give her a major role in shaping the state’s implementation of federal health reform or Obamacare, including new insurance exchanges and a potentially huge expansion of Medicaid.
“They have appointed a chair who has I think been not very enthusiastic about implementation of health care reform,” said David Frockt of Seattle, who spoke to reporters on behalf of Democrats today.
I couldn’t immediately reach Becker, but in the past she has voiced measured criticism of the law, saying in one statement that it “didn’t address the issue of cost in health insurance.” She has also said she would make sure “Medicaid spending is targeted to those who need it most.”
The Democrats had picked Tacoman Steve Conway as chairman of Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections, but the coalition instead chose Auburn Republican Pam Roach, who led the committee in 2003 and 2004.
Roach has a fractious relationship with Republican leadership, yet gets one of the plum positions under the new arrangement.
Roach couldn’t immediately be reached but Democrat Rodney Tom said she has been “wonderful” to work with in the process of creating the coalition that will make Tom majority leader.
Roach is under sanctions that prevent her from communicating directly with much of the Senate staff. The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee recommitted to its sanctions in September as part of settling a hostile-workplace lawsuit with a former staff member who accused Roach of being abusive. But now the F&O committee will be controlled by the coalition and Tom said he expects it to lift the sanctions.
“She has served her two-year period, and I think it’s time to move on,” Tom said.
UPDATE 2:30 p.m.: Roach told me she would pursue embedding in the state constitution the requirement for super-majorities to raise taxes in the Legislature. And with her as chairman, Roach said perennial bills trying to put more restrictions on signature gatherers won’t see the light of day. “The public doesn’t have to worry about attacks on the initiative and referendum process,” she said.
As for the sanctions, Roach said, “That is something that never should have been there in the first place…. Some in my own caucus wanted me out of office and this was one of the ways to try to accomplish that. It didn’t work.”
The proposal gives the new minority caucus more than Democrats had offered Republicans, which included a single committee split between the parties and the rest controlled by Democrats, though more narrowly than before. But the six committees the GOP-led coalition offered Democrats are mostly lower-tier.
The coalition does call for three other committees to be evenly split between and co-chaired by the two parties, including the key Transportation Committee, but the split is not quite what it sounds like.
Tim Sheldon, the Potlatch Democrat who joined Tom and Republicans in the coalition, would be a member of the Transportation Committee, where he could join with the Republicans led by Curtis King of Yakima, and of the new Energy and Telecommunications committee, where he could join the Republicans led by Doug Ericksen of Ferndale.
Democrats have nominated Tracey Eide of Des Moines for chairwoman of Transportation. I couldn’t reach her immediately today but I talked to her recently about the possibility of a co-chairmanship, and she said the committee is so bipartisan it’s “extremely unnecessary” to change the structure.
“I’ve been here when there are co-chairs (in House committees) and it is expensive. And I don’t know if the people of Washington state want to spend that kind of money,” Eide said — everything from more employees to staff both sides, all the way down to extra stationery.
(A side note: the newly dubbed Majority Coalition Caucus does have a slick new graphic for its stationery.)
One committee that would presumably be truly split would be Human Services and Corrections, which under the GOP proposal would be led by one Democrat and Lakewood Republican Mike Carrell. Carrell said in a statement today he was eager “to have lawmakers working with each other instead of against each other, and the power-sharing arrangement suggested by the former majority as a possible framework for the upcoming session was nothing more than cosmetic.”