Op-Ed: Progress must continue despite Republican takeover

By Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles

On the opening day of the 2013 legislative session last week, two recalcitrant Democrats joined sides with the Senate’s 23 Republicans to vote to scrap rules that have governed our institution for more than 100 years. I find this worrisome, and I think Washingtonians should likewise, for a number of reasons.

The Republicans-plus-two executed a coup (non-violent, of course) the likes of which our state has not seen since 1906. At least in 1906, it was for a good cause — to rally opposition to robber barons. Last week’s coup, by contrast, was simply a power grab to create a 25-24 majority and seize control from Democrats who had been elected to a 26-23 Senate majority last November.

Though the leaders of the new majority say their goal is to promote bipartisanship, collaboration and a near-equal sharing of power, their actions so far belie their rhetoric.

First of all, their plan was hatched in secret and unveiled in a press conference — hardly hallmarks of collaboration. Forcing half the chamber to accept a unilateral plan that upends a century of Senate tradition is not the way you foster trust or respect, much less collaboration or bipartisanship.

Second, the Republicans gave themselves a 13-8 majority on the Senate Rules Committee — the committee that ultimately decides whether a bill actually makes it to a vote by the full Senate. That will make it very difficult to move any legislation they don’t agree with. And, it should be noted, traditionally when there is a one-seat majority, the majority creates a much closer margin on the Rules Committee.

Third, the Republicans gave themselves a 13-10 advantage that, while less onerous than the majority in Rules, nevertheless assures them a stranglehold on the committee that writes the Senate’s operating and capital budgets.

I’ve heard members of the majority say the voters of our state want bipartisanship, but the Republican takeover seems structured to give voters just the opposite. Calling it bipartisan doesn’t make it bipartisan any more than calling a cat a dog will make it a dog. I call it BINO — Bipartisan in Name Only.

On opening day last week, for example, the Republican majority repeatedly spoke of the need to collaborate — and then roundly voted down our attempts to infuse their unilateral Senate restructuring with evenhanded changes that would have promoted true bipartisanship. Earlier, in renaming many of the Senate committees, the Republicans stripped “consumer protection” out of what had been the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee. They also rejected our proposal to create co-chairs and equal numbers of Democratic and Republican members for each committee. If their actions are an indication of their legislative intentions, this change does not bode well for Washington consumers.

That’s why, for instance, I turned down the Republicans’ offer to let me chair the Higher Education Committee. I believe it would have been hypocritical to chair a committee within a Senate structure I believed to be bipartisan in name only. Instead, I am the ranking member — the lead Democrat — on that committee. In addition, I am a member of the Ways & Means, Law & Justice committees.

For my part, I have returned to Olympia to work harder than ever on issues I know are important to our district and our state. I intend to:

  • Continue to build on my past efforts to eradicate human trafficking. Those areas include but are not limited to the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the victimization of people of all ages, ethnic heritage and gender.
  • Move forward with reasonable, effective measures to reduce gun violence and ensure public safety whether in a school, a movie theater or any other venue.
  • Implement systems to provide for the reliable distribution of medical cannabis as well as the safe sale and taxation of commercial cannabis.
  • Spur job creation and economic vitality.
  • Reverse the destructive trend of rising tuition costs in recent years and make sure middle-class families have affordable access to higher education.
  • Support policies and funding to ensure the well-being of children and vulnerable adults.

We have yet to see what effect the new Republican majority will have on our ability to progress on these issues, but I remain optimistic of success and dedicated to do everything I can to move these important issues forward.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Belltown, represents the 36th Legislative District.

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