A new alignment in the Washington state Senate calls for some new math.
“The difference between 25 and 26 isn’t one,” Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said Thursday. “It’s exponential.”
Tom and his coalition that runs the Senate will welcome Republican Jan Angel as the group's 26th member. Democrat Nathan Schlicher conceded the 26th District race Thursday after Angel’s lead widened to 1,543 votes on the third day of counting ballots.
Today, one vote is all that keeps the majority in the hands of 23 Republicans plus Democrats Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch. Losing a single member risks allowing Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat, to step in to break a 24-to-24 tie.
What’s more, when every member of the majority is needed, any of them can make demands.
“When everybody thinks they’re that 25th vote, well, they’ve got leverage,” Tom said. “It just makes it a lot more difficult.”
The coalition has hung together during its first year in charge, though, with no public rifts. So the change may not be immediately evident.
Tom said he thought he was likely to remain majority leader in the new configuration, though he said that was up to his colleagues.
And regardless of the size of its majority, Democratic Floor Leader David Frockt said the other side was able to control the flow of legislation because it had given its members such a “rock-solid majority” on the powerful Rules Committee.
“They have control of the chamber,” said Frockt, of Seattle. And when Democrats have tried parliamentary maneuvers to advance legislation, he said, their rivals “stuck together as a caucus and did not break.”
It’s possible some of the group’s relatively more moderate leaders could have less of a need to cater to its most conservative members.
But Dwight Pelz, the state Democratic Party chairman, argues the opposite is likely: that the group would pay less attention to its Democrats.
“To the extent there’s a tea party bloc, I think you’ll still see undue influence by a minority of tea party Republicans,” Pelz said.
Sheldon said such arguments are what failed to defeat Angel in the 26th District election.
“I think in that race the opposition, the Democrats on Schlicher’s side there, tried to paint her as a tea-party type of a Republican who belongs to ALEC (the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, for which Angel is the Washington co-chairwoman), tried to tie her candidacy to what’s going on in DC, and I think that didn’t work and people see the difference,” he said.
Gig Harbor doctor Schlicher, Port Orchard Rep. Angel and their allies spent $3 million on the race. Republicans were aided by a slew of national companies, some with ties to ALEC, but the money race tilted just slightly toward Schlicher, who had his own deep pocketed allies including environmentalist billionaire Thomas Steyer.
The secretary of state must certify the results by Dec. 5 and Angel could take office soon after. Next up is the Pierce County Council’s and Kitsap County commissioners’ one-year appointment of a fellow Republican to Angel’s House seat.
Once that happens, the Pierce County delegation to the Legislature will be split equally between Democrats and Republicans.