This year, voters in five legislative districts holding special elections will decide who controls the Washington State Legislature in 2018. The two chambers are currently each divided by the narrowest of majorities, with Democrats holding a razor thin majority in the House and Republicans holding a razor thin majority in the Senate.
While the Democratic majority in the House is almost certain to endure (Democrats are only defending one seat, which Republicans aren’t even trying to pick up), the Republican majority in the Senate is on the verge of disappearing. The party is trying to defend three seats this year, one of which seems as good as gone.
Republicans will be out of power in the Legislature in a matter of weeks unless they can find a way to win in Washington’s 45th — the only one of the five districts holding special elections that currently has a divided delegation in Olympia.
They may not be able to.
The 45th is a district that is increasingly voting Democratic across the board, and all signs indicate that voters there are ready for all-Democratic representation.
Democrats are eager to turn the 45th completely blue and are working tirelessly to make that happen. The party has enthusiastically rallied around experienced prosecutor Manka Dhingra, who easily bested the Republicans’ handpicked recruit Jinyoung Lee Englund in last month’s preliminary election, 51% to 41%.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring 48th District (which is already solidly Democratic), Democrats are working to return Patty Kuderer to the Senate to finish out the term of Cyrus Habib, who resigned after last year’s elections to become Lieutenant Governor. Kuderer is opposed in the general election by Libertarian Michelle Darnell, in part because no Republican candidate filed to challenge Kuderer.
Kuderer and Darnell shared a stage last night in Redmond at a forum organized by the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County.
Towards the end of the program, moderator Natalie Brand (who covers politics for KING5) asked the candidates what changes, if any, they’d make to the structure of the Legislature to enable better functioning in the future.
Kuderer used her time to make the case for ousting the Senate Republicans from power, explaining in depth how they have been mismanaging the chamber.
Here’s a transcript of what she said:
MODERATOR NATALIE BRAND: Many in Washington are dismayed by the inability of the Legislature to finish its work on time, forcing it into multiple special sessions and taking the state to the brink of shutdown. Are there any changes that you think to be made to the structure of the Legislature’s time and/or pay that might enable better functioning in the future? Ms. Kuderer to start.
DEMOCRATIC SENATOR PATTY KUDERER: Yeah. You know, I’ve talked to constituents about this. I’ve only been in the Legislature for not quite two years. I’ve served both now in the House and the Senate. They’re run differently. And in the Senate, what I saw this year [was ridiculous]. Even though my colleagues on the other side of the aisle talked about running government like a business, I don’t know any business that operates that way.
There were several days during the regular session that we were not on the Senate floor, and the reason we were not on the Senate floor is because one senator [Doug Ericksen] was out in Washington, D.C. doing another job. And because he wasn’t there, we were tied 24–24, and they were concerned that we might bring a bill to the floor that some of their members would vote for.
So rather than coming over and having a gentleman’s agreement on getting bills that, like mine, that passed 49 to nothing, that could have been done early in the regular session… waits until the end. That was just irresponsible, I think. It’s an irresponsible way to govern.
There are so many things about how the Senate was run that I felt were illogical, frustrating, and like I said, irresponsible.
I don’t think we needed three sessions. And in terms of saying, Well, you shouldn’t get paid and all that… I think that would make sense to someone like me who’s actually motivated to compromise and get things done and all that. I didn’t take per diem when I wasn’t down in Olympia during special session. I know some senators did.
But honestly, when your leadership in the Senate are all millionaires… They don’t care. They don’t care about the per diem. They don’t care about their salary. They’re not there for that money. They’re there for the power. And so, when you put people in there who are more concerned about power than people, you’re going to get inefficient government. You’re going to get waste in government. You’re going to get a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The emphasis in that final paragraph of the transcript is mine. I felt those four lines were the culmination of Patty’s remarks regarding the mismanagement of our state Senate, so I bolded them. This is as powerful of a rationale as any I’ve heard in any setting for why Washington voters ought to fire the Senate Republicans.
As a member of the Senate, Patty sees what’s going on — or not going on — on a daily basis. And as a recent alum of the House, she can speak authoritatively about the differences between how the two chambers are run. Whatever problems may exist on the House side certainly pale in comparison to the problems that exist in the Senate, which has become plagued by dysfunction and hostage-taking.
Patty’s comment about the leadership of the Senate all being millionaires is a reference to the known net worth of most of the top Republican state senators, who are indeed each worth over seven figures.
- Mark Schoesler, Senate Majority Leader: $1,754,311 (as of 2015)
- Sharon Brown, Deputy Leader: $1,292,446 (as of 2015)
- Tim Sheldon, President Pro Tempore: $3,075,260 (as of 2015)
- Judy Warnick, Caucus Vice Chair: $1,221,851 (as of 2015)
- John Braun, Ways & Means Chair: $2,276,903 (as of 2015)
- Curtis King, Transportation Chair: $1,003,337 (as of 2015)
Patty mentioned earlier in the forum (in an answer not excerpted above) that she got into politics to champion amply funded public schools. Fulfilling Washington’s paramount duty is her primary motivation for serving.
Our country and region need more lawmakers like Patty. We all deserve elected representatives who are passionately committed to people-powered politics and aren’t afraid to speak truth to power.