Gael Tarleton on the House floor
Gael Tarleton on the House floor

Ear­li­er this evening, we received word that State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and NPI Vice Pres­i­dent-Sec­re­tary Gael Tar­leton has been elect­ed by her Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues to serve as the new Major­i­ty Floor Leader in the Wash­ing­ton State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, suc­ceed­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kris­tine Lyt­ton, who is tak­ing over the chair­man­ship of the House Finance Com­mit­tee from Reuven Carlyle.

“I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to accom­plish for my com­mu­ni­ty and the state of Wash­ing­ton,” Tar­leton said in a state­ment post­ed to her leg­isla­tive web­site. “In just a few short years, we’ve improved pub­lic health, expand­ed access to high­er edu­ca­tion, and built more secure communities.”

“But there’s still work to do to ensure we pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ty for all and build a strong mid­dle class through con­tin­ued invest­ments in edu­ca­tion and the cre­ation of fam­i­ly-wage jobs in all cor­ners of the state. I’m look­ing for­ward to serv­ing the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton in this new lead­er­ship role.”

Car­lyle is like­ly to be appoint­ed to take the place of Jeanne Kohl-Welles in the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate in a mat­ter of weeks.

Kohl-Welles was recent­ly elect­ed to a four-year term on the Met­ro­pol­i­tan King Coun­ty Coun­cil, tak­ing the place of Lar­ry Phillips, who decid­ed to retire. Already on the Coun­cil are for­mer Wash­ing­ton State leg­is­la­tors Dave Upthe­grove and Joe McDer­mott, who suc­ceed­ed Julia Pat­ter­son and Dow Con­stan­tine, respectively.

Car­lyle’s planned depar­ture neces­si­tat­ed anoth­er round of reshuf­fling. The cau­cus has already bid farewell to Ross Hunter and Dean Takko, who left the cau­cus ear­li­er this autumn. Hunter now works in the Inslee admin­is­tra­tion along with Takko’s pre­de­ces­sor, Bri­an Hat­field. Takko took Hat­field­’s place in the Sen­ate, and was him­self suc­ceed­ed by Hat­field­’s leg­isla­tive assis­tant J.D. Rossetti.

The Major­i­ty Floor Leader has an impor­tant job with­in each house of the Leg­is­la­ture. It is the floor lead­er’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to coor­di­nate the debate on the floor and ensure that bills have either the req­ui­site fifty or twen­ty-five votes required to pass pri­or to the com­mence­ment of debate.

Tar­leton’s coun­ter­part in the House on the Repub­li­can side is J.T. Wilcox, who rep­re­sents Yelm, Eatonville, La Grande, and the adjoin­ing com­mu­ni­ties in the 2nd Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict. Wilcox post­ed to Face­book today, com­ment­ing on Car­lyle’s depar­ture and try­ing to spin it as good news for Repub­li­cans. He wrote:

The best and the bright­est are leav­ing the WA House Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cau­cus. Deeply expe­ri­enced, senior mem­bers Hunter, Car­lyle and Hunt have already announced they are mov­ing on. Among the most tal­ent­ed younger mem­bers are Brady Walkin­shaw and Chris Reyk­dahl [sic] who is also leav­ing the cau­cus. Many of these are pur­su­ing oth­er elec­tive options, how­ev­er doubt­ful. In the mean­time, House and Sen­ate Repub­li­cans are main­tain­ing amaz­ing sta­bil­i­ty due to the seri­ous oppor­tu­ni­ty to gov­ern the state of Washington.

I had to laugh when I read this. (J.T., if you get around to read­ing this post, there’s no h in Reyk­dal. Spelling counts, espe­cial­ly when you’re a lawmaker.)

Let me offer a few obser­va­tions in response.

First, it’s pret­ty evi­dent Wilcox and his fel­low House Repub­li­cans are hun­gry for pow­er. Repub­li­cans have been in the minor­i­ty in the state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives since the turn of the cen­tu­ry, and nat­u­ral­ly they’re tired of that.

Hav­ing whit­tled the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty down to fifty, House Repub­li­cans are now beat­ing the drums, part­ner­ing with nation­al Repub­li­cans to tar­get the Wash­ing­ton State House for a takeover, and try­ing to con­vince reporters and prog­nos­ti­ca­tors that 2016 is going to be their year.

Of course, the rest of us are under no oblig­a­tion to help them cre­ate a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy. 2016 is a pres­i­den­tial year, which means a larg­er and more pro­gres­sive elec­torate is like­ly to turn out. If House Democ­rats learn from their mis­takes, they ought to be able to rebound and pick up seats instead of los­ing more.

Sec­ond, with respect to Car­lyle and Hunt, they’re not leav­ing the Leg­is­la­ture, just mov­ing over to the Sen­ate to con­tin­ue their ser­vice there, as many of their Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues (like Dean Takko, Mar­a­lyn Chase, Bob Hasegawa, David Frockt, or Sharon Nel­son) have already done. Car­lyle and Hunt will be bring­ing their con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence and leg­isla­tive skills to a cau­cus that is angling to get back into the major­i­ty in 2016. That’s good news for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

Third, we com­mon­ly see leg­is­la­tors seek high­er office in pres­i­den­tial years, when all nine of the state’s exec­u­tive depart­ment posi­tions are up, in addi­tion to the state’s ten U.S. House seats, and, usu­al­ly, one of two U.S. Sen­ate seats.

Wash­ing­ton State leg­is­la­tors aren’t paid very much, and they often seek to move up when oppor­tu­ni­ties present them­selves. This is true for Democ­rats as well as Repub­li­cans. Wilcox con­ve­nient­ly failed to men­tion that sev­er­al of his Repub­li­can col­leagues in the Leg­is­la­ture are also run­ning or think­ing about run­ning for high­er or local office in 2016. A quick rundown:

  • State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Eliz­a­beth Scott (R‑Firearms) is giv­ing up her seat to chal­lenge Suzan Del­Bene for Congress;
  • Bruce Dammeier is leav­ing the Sen­ate to run for Pierce Coun­ty Executive;
  • Sen­a­tor Pam Roach says she’s run­ning for Pierce Coun­ty Council;
  • And Sen­a­tor Steve O’Ban is rumored to be con­sid­er­ing a cam­paign for state Supreme Court. Like Scott and Dammeier, he’d need to give up his seat.

Fourth, the turnover in the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus that Wilcox is talk­ing about is occur­ring in solid­ly blue Demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­tricts. Brady Walkin­shaw is from the 43rd, Chris Reyk­dal and Sam Hunt are from the 22nd, Reuven Car­lyle is from the 36th, and Ross Hunter is from the 48th. None of them were seri­ous­ly chal­lenged in 2014. These are the kinds of seats a prog­nos­ti­ca­tor like Lar­ry Saba­to would rate as “Safe Demo­c­rat”. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty should have lit­tle dif­fi­cul­ty defend­ing them.

And turnover in safe dis­tricts has upsides for a leg­isla­tive cau­cus. It pro­vides an infu­sion of new blood and allows less senior mem­bers to step into new roles and gain expe­ri­ence, with lit­tle risk to the cau­cus’ elec­toral prospects.

We are very proud of Gael for hav­ing won the sup­port of her col­leagues to be Major­i­ty Floor Leader. We know first­hand that Gael excels in what she choos­es to take on. She has a com­mit­ment to excel­lence. House Democ­rats will be well-served by her in this role, and by exten­sion, so will the peo­ple of our great state.

We are also look­ing for­ward to see­ing the new mem­bers of the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus in action in 2016. New Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Pat­ty Kud­er­er, for instance, is a capa­ble and wor­thy suc­ces­sor to Ross Hunter, and we know she’ll do a good job rep­re­sent­ing the East­side and work­ing to ful­ly fund our schools.Once again, con­grat­u­la­tions to Gael on begin­ning this excit­ing new chap­ter in pub­lic ser­vice. It’s well-earned and well-deserved.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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