Surely this state has seen at least a few legislative sessions that topped the absurdity we’ve seen this year.
But probably not many.
When it comes to 2015, and ranking on the Strangeness Scale, this year at the state Capitol has a lot going for it.
For starters, the Legislature has already been in session longer than any other single year on the books. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the previous record was 163 days, set in 2001. We eclipsed that magic number when the Legislature embarked on its third special session last week.
Hopefully you celebrated accordingly.
The unusual length of this year’s legislative slog, however, is merely the start. There was the fiasco of state Auditor Troy Kelley being indicted on tax-evasion charges, and legislators tweeting #walegRapLyrics from the Senate floor. Also: Richland Republican Larry Haler claiming that the Council on American-Islamic Relations is “basically run by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas” with a goal of overthrowing the country.
Haler later apologized, but we can still mark his comments down as just one of 2015’s many legislative peculiarities.
And it didn’t take long for things to get goofy. On the first Monday of session, way back on Jan. 12, Republican Sen. Pam Roach, once booted from her own caucus, was elected Senate president pro tempore.
In what was described as a coup of sorts, Roach’s installment was orchestrated by Democrats, who came together to vote for the Auburn conservative as part of a dig at Potlatch Democrat Tim Sheldon.
Roach, a notorious loose cannon with a history of alleged abusive behavior, received nearly every vote from Democrats, while Sheldon, who angered his party in 2013 when his defection led to the creation of the Majority Coalition Caucus, received nearly every vote from Republicans.
Sheldon had held the largely ceremonial position the previous two years. But in 2015, retribution was apparently in order, as Roach prevailed by a single vote.
“I think it was an opportunity for them to retaliate,” Sheldon told The News Tribune’s Jordan Schrader at the time.
It wasn’t even the oddest news of the day.
That distinction went to Senate Republicans, led by Spokane’s Michael Baumgartner and Ferndale’s Doug Erickson, who successfully passed a procedural rule that attempted to skirt the state Supreme Court. In a 2013 ruling, the court found that requiring a two-thirds super-majority on tax hikes — as multiple Tim Eyman-championed, voter-approved initiatives have sought to do — is unconstitutional.
Baumgartner and Erickson’s rule essentially sought to undo that decision, in a creative way, inserting an end-run into the Senate’s procedures that would have required a two-thirds majority vote to move all new tax bills from second to third reading.
It was sneaky, and kind of brilliant, if you’re into that sort of thing.
To no great surprise, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen later found the rule to be just as unconstitutional as Eyman’s attempts.
“Two-thirds-for-new-taxes is a powerful statement and a powerful principle,” Baumgartner said in a statement shortly after its passage (and before its demise). “This will make it much more difficult for Gov. Jay Inslee to pass his misguided proposals for cap and trade and a new capital gains tax.”
At least Baumgartner got a few things he wanted — Inslee’s push for a cap and trade tax and a new capital gains tax seems to have failed just as miserably.
In true Hollywood fashion, 2015 saved its strangest and most baffling moment for the big finale. That came early Wednesday, when an all-night session was blown up by an unexpected last-minute maneuver by Senate Democrats, who balked at delaying Initiative 1351, the voter-approved measure to lower class sizes. Up until that point delaying I-1351 had been seen as a foregone conclusion by both parties.
The surprise move left Republicans irate and House Democrats, who’d already supported suspending I-1351, out to dry.
More important, it left a $2 billion hole in the operating budget.
Enter Ellensburg Republican Matt Manweller, who, as part of an epic and, to this point, unsubstantiated Facebook rant, attributed the questionable move by Senate Dems to “immaturity, too much alcohol, and a lack of respect for the process and keeping your word.”
“No matter how long I serve, I will never forget the scene last night of inebriated Democrats laughing about how they had screwed everyone including their House Democratic friends and thinking it was funny,” Manweller took to Facebook to write.
One thing we can probably all agree on: This year in Olympia has been enough to make just about anyone crave a stiff drink.