Republicans will weild unprecedented power next year in the State Senate despite the Democrats maintaining a nominal majority with 26 of the 49 seats. Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom (Bellevue) will serve as majority leader for a coalition that includes all Senate Republicans plus Sen. Tom and Sen. Tim Sheldon (Potlatch).
Expected for some weeks, the final arrangement was announced in a news conference today. It reveals that Democrats have not yet healed the break that happened at the end of this year's legislative session. At that time, Senators Tom and Sheldon were joined by then-Sen. Jim Kastama (Puyallup) as they joined with Republicans to take control of the Senate and pass a compromise supplemental budget and other reform legislation.
Next year, six Senate committees will be chaired by Republicans (Ways and Means; Commerce and Labor; Education; Government Operations; Law and Justice; and Health Care), six by Democrats, and three will have co-chairs from both parties. A full list, including Republican chairmen, is here. The bipartisan coalition's statement of "Governing Principles" is here.
Control of key committees will give Republicans an opportunity to hear bills that have in recent years languished in legislative purgatory. Look for hearings on school choice and other education reform measures as well as election integrity and labor reform.
Elections have consequences. The result of a slightly closer State Senate, and the decisions of a few key senators, means Washington State's political conversation may be more balanced in 2013 than it has been for years. It also gives Republicans an opportunity to make their case more publicly as they prepare for a special senate election in November 2013 and for regular legislative elections in 2014.