South King County sends key players to Senate

Federal Way Mirror

By Bob Roegner

As the legislative session moves into its second month, there is very little movement on the major issues confronting the state.

And until the revenue picture is clearer, they won’t move on education, as education funding will drive everything else. But there is plenty going on and some of the key players are from South King County.

Feeling their new power in the Senate, Republicans have introduced hot-button legislation on abortion, family leave and school performance.

But those issues won’t get very far in the House, even if they pass in the Senate. Both parties are also introducing legislation to try and force recorded votes on potentially vulnerable legislators in hopes of defeating them next election.

Senate Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, who have joined with Republicans to take control of the Senate, will be part of the overall history of this legislative session. But until the budget picture is clearer, there are four other Senators to watch who could be a major influence on what gets passed.

Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way) bucked her party and agreed to take the Republicans’ offer of co-chairing the transportation committee. Democratic party leaders would have preferred she decline, as it gives symbolism of bipartisanship to what was in actuality a takeover.

Even though Republicans gave her veto power over committee work equal to Republican co-chair Curtis King (R-Yakima), Eide has been around Olympia long enough to know that even with the appearance of a coalition, the Republicans will control the rules committee with 13 members, while Democrats have 8 members, and can sidetrack her legislation if they want.

But she decided to take the chance, and hopes she can work with King and Joe Fain (R-Auburn) to move legislation. How the relationship with Fain works could be critical as he emerged from all the maneuvering as floor leader and has become a major player.

Eide and Fain are well known, and well respected, in South King County. By working together, they could play a major role in transportation needs such as I-5, SR-167 and SR-509. But both are supporters of K-12 education, and community colleges such as Highline and Green River.

They also work well with both Federal Way and Auburn Chambers of Commerce. By working together, they could set the tone for legislative cooperation, and help diminish the lack of trust that emerged after the maneuver by Tom and Sheldon.

If you’re looking for intrigue, then watch new Democratic Sen. Nathaniel Schlicher, who was appointed to replace Derek Kilmer in the 26th District after Kilmer was elected to Congress. Schlicher will have to run this fall to hold the position.

This Senate seat is critical to both parties and their aim of controlling the Senate. Republican House member Jan Angel has already announced her intention to run against Schlicher this fall. If she wins, the Republicans may not need Tom and Sheldon any more. Democrats will work hard to give Schlicher every chance to look good and increase his chances of election.

Conversely, the Senate Republicans will likely not look favorably on any legislation with his name on it. At the same time the Democrat- controlled house won’t do Angel any favors either.

In Olympia-speak, each side has a hostage for negotiation purposes. That could become important later in the session when things get difficult.

But there is a wild card. One of the first changes the new Senate coalition made was to lift sanctions against  Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn), which barred her from having direct contact with Senate staff due to past behavior problems. Roach had not caucused with Republicans until the end of the last legislative session, when they gained control of the budget and needed her vote.

Roach denies the allegations of inappropriate behavior. The coalition also named her chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, even though there was a new allegation regarding her conduct. The coalition desperately needs to keep her happy to maintain control of the Senate. Any additional publicity would be bad for the Republicans. Can Roach avoid any additional issues? Since every Republican Senator is the 25th vote, can they sustain their unity when issues get serious?

This will be an exciting session with a new Democratic governor, a Democratic House and a one-vote Republican Senate. Everyone can checkmate everyone else.

And everything is viewed through a political prism, to the extent that the first day opening invocation became controversial when the guest pastor included a call for the strengthening of marriage.

This will be a historic session. Try to visit if you can. Don’t believe every sound bite you hear. It is a more subtle game than that. But do watch the four Senators and the budget.