Republicans are poised to gain tenuous control of the Washington state Senate once lawmakers convene their 105-day session at noon today in a time of ongoing budget troubles. The alliance between 23 GOP senators and two maverick Democrats will be led by Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina, who expects to be chosen as majority leader.
The coup that gives Republicans their one-vote edge in the Senate bears a striking resemblance to the 1963 coup in the House, as we reported on last month. That earlier power shift – exactly 50 years ago today – came about when then-House Republican leader Dan Evans joined forces with Democratic Rep. Bill “Big Daddy” Day of Spokane to wrest control from Democratic Speaker John L. O’Brien and install Day as the coalition’s speaker.
At most, one Democrat from the resulting House minority caucus accepted a Republican offer to chair a committee.
As of this morning, exactly which Senate Democrats might chair what Senate committees is still being sorted out, and my reporting partner Jordan Schrader of The News Tribune sizes up the situation in this piece, noting three minority Democrats still could accept chair or co-chair roles.
I hadn’t noticed this initially, but in talking to Senate staffers about the power struggle in their chamber I learned that the Senate has seen a surprisingly large number of power-shifts in the past decade. And while Democratic majorities are sometimes large, the GOP edge has been consistently narrow in the last three decades.
In fact, Democrats have held sway in the Senate for 22 of the past 34 years – with majorities as large as 32-17, which occurred in 2007-08. Republicans have managed narrow majorities four times (this year marks the fifth) but never with more than 26 seats.
In the House the story is a little different – with only two periods of Republican control in the past three decades and a three-year period (1999-2001) when the two parties shared power equally.