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Were seeds for Majority Coalition Caucus in state Senate sewn in Washington Redistricting Commission?

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Feb. 22, 2013 at 9:11 am |
February 22, 2013 9:14 am

Well, yeah. Sort of.

The so-called coup by 23 formerly minority Republicans and two Democrats that broke in mid-December came just after the final undecided Senate race was decided.

Because it was so close, the race between GOP incumbent Don Benton and challenger Tim Probst wasn’t official until the election was certified. Benton won reelection by 78 votes out of just under 55,000 cast. Once he was in and the GOP total was up to 23 votes, the coalition with Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon could became a majority of 25.

Sen. Rodney Tom announces the formation of the Majority Reform Coalition, Dec. 10, 2012 (News Tribune, Peter Haley)
Sen. Rodney Tom announces the formation of the Majority Reform Coalition, Dec. 10, 2012 (News Tribune, Peter Haley)

Did Benton deliver the majority? He certainly thinks he did. But when there are 25 votes, everyone in the majority caucus is the 25th and deciding vote. Certainly Barbara Bailey, who defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Mary Margaret Haugen in the 10th District, has as good a claim as Benton. But her result was known much earlier and lacked the drama of the back-and-forth between Benton and Probst.

Senate Democrats lament that just a bit more effort down in southwest Washington would have defeated Benton and made it more-difficult for the majority coalition caucus to have formed. But buried in the emails between and among the four-member Washington State Redistricting Commission and members of the legislature suggests that the new maps themselves made it an uphill battle for Probst.

One early email from Sen. Craig Pridemore, a Democrat from the district next door to the 17th, joked that his offer to give up some Democratic areas to help his party create a more-Democratic 17th may have back-fired on him.

“So it appears on first blush that you’re proposing making the 49th District Republican and the 17th Democratic,” Pridemore wrote the Senate Democratic commissioner Tim Ceis. “When I suggested we could probably help out the 17th a little I didn’t think that meant I’d have to switch parties.”

But when the final maps were complete and the Democratic commissioners had reached the final deal with the Republican commissioners, the reactions were mixed.

“Are these the only changes in the District, ” wrote Benton of the final map. “If so, then Slade and our people did a horrible job for me because what I lost could not have been more conservative territory.” (“Slade is GOP commissioner Slade Gorton appointed by Senate Republicans. The other GOP commissioner was former Rep. Tom Huff).

“If this is all the change there is, then I got really screwed, ” Benton continued. “It is obvious the Democrats won big on redistricting!”

But the analysis done by the commission’s Republican staff, using the past performance of GOP candidates in the new and old 17th, showed that the district had become slightly more Republican. What had been a 51.18 percent GOP district would become a 51.61 percent GOP district.

Probst certainly analysed it that way.

“It sounds like the 17th gets even tougher for me personally, but I know you two did an amazing job balancing many interests … ., ” he wrote to Ceis and House Democratic commissioner Dean Foster.

Probst did better than the analysis suggested but still lost when the results were certified Dec. 6. Four days later, Tom, Sheldon and the leaders of the Senate Republican caucus, Benton included, announced their coalition.

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