What’s Happening in the Washington State Senate?

Once the dust had settled after the 2012 elections, the Washington State Senate ended up with 26 Democrats and 23 Republicans, meaning Democrats maintained their majority. So, during the first week of December, the Senate Democrats met and elected their leadership and committee chairs. To serve as their new Majority Leader, to replace the retiring Lisa Brown of Spokane, they elected Sen. Ed Murray (D-43).

On Dec. 10, the Senate Republicans along with two Senate Democrats held a press conference to announce they were forming a new “Majority Coalition Caucus” to lead the Senate during the 2013 legislative session. The two Democrats, Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48) and Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-35), announced that they were siding with the Republicans to create a new 25-24 majority.

Under their plan, six committees would have Democratic chairs, six would have Republican chairs and three would have co-chairs. None of the committees would have more than a one-vote margin between Republicans and Democrats. They also announced that they would be electing Tom as Majority Leader, and Sheldon as President Pro Tem—two very powerful positions, according to Mark Minickiello, vice president of legislative affairs for the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA).

“Many of us were left wondering, what does this mean?” Minickiello said. “How will this work? What do the Senate Democrats think of this? Well, on Dec. 17 we found out.”

The Washington State Senate Democrats are not going along with the proposed Majority Coalition Caucus yet. In a letter sent to Tom, Murray wrote that in order to redefine a majority caucus, the Senate’s 23 Republicans and the two Democrats joining them must vote to change the permanent rules of the Senate and its governance structure when the legislative session begins on Jan. 14.

Murray also wrote that Lt. Gov. Brad Owen has said he will continue to recognize the Democratic caucus as the majority caucus of the Senate until that happens, noting Senate rules define majority caucus as the party containing the most elected members, which currently remains the Democratic caucus.

So, what does this mean?

“Well, for starters, things are going to start off with a bang on day one,” Minickiello said. “And secondly, it’s looking less and less likely that the Senate will have their committee chairs and members set before session.”

In the end, Minickiello said, what was touted by the new Majority Coalition Caucus as a way to conduct the Senate’s business in a truly bipartisan way—sharing committee control and governing together—may end up causing the exact opposite to happen.


Questions? Contact a member of the Association’s Legislative Affairs team:

Jennifer Wagner, Vice President of Legislative Advocacy
Mark Minickiello, Vice President of Legislative Affairs
Pam Leavitt, Policy Advisor

Posted in Advocacy News, Around the NW.