IT’S a general rule in politics: If one side of the aisle says it’s bipartisan and the other side says it’s not, then it’s not.
Earlier this week, when twenty-three Republicans plus two breakaway Democrats announced plans to seize control of the state Senate from Democrats, they did so in the name of bipartisanship and collaboration.
But it’s a curious kind of bipartisanship that has no room for consultation with the other side. When majority Republicans put forward their idea to radically restructure the Senate, absent was the opportunity for input from the other 24 members of the 49-member body. And when the Republicans said their plan would “put aside party dynamics and focus instead on the needs of all Washingtonians,” it’s clear that the only party dynamics they wish to set aside are Democratic ones.
The Seattle Times editorial page applauded the move as a necessary check against the Democratic House and governor [“State coalition caucus a promising change,” Opinion, Dec. 12]. This argument looks flimsy after Washington voters overwhelmingly selected Democrats for president, senator, a majority of our congressional delegation, governor, all statewide offices except one, and majorities in the state House and Senate.
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The fact is, though, the public expects us to work together to move the state forward, no matter who is in charge. This is especially true in the Senate, a diverse body with an unstable balancing point that shifts from issue to issue. After the election, majority Democrats knew that the Senate would descend into dysfunction if we tried to govern with a strict 25-vote strategy, the bare minimum number of votes necessary. We knew we needed to work from a much broader base, 30 to 35 votes. So we proposed a more-inclusive, less-partisan organizing model than has ever existed before, including a bipartisan education finance committee, and invited dialogue with Republicans about our proposal.
We had hoped to replicate the successful and unprecedented bipartisan budget process we initiated with the Republicans in the 2011 legislative session, built on mutually agreeable terms, shared principles and equal participation. But this was rejected out of hand by the Republicans, who proposed their own structure based solely on their own terms and their own principles — which we’ve since learned is nonnegotiable.
We recognize that Republicans have the votes to unilaterally impose their will. As the new minority, we will work together when we can and oppose when we must. Our commitment to our state’s values will not waver.
But we do find the Republicans’ my-way-or-the-highway approach to be concerning. It’s the exact opposite of collaboration, no matter how many times the word is invoked.
We’re concerned about its immediate impact on policy affecting middle-class and working families, our children, our teachers, our dedicated public employees, our seniors and the most vulnerable, women’s reproductive rights, health-care expansion, our environment and natural resources and adequate K-12 education funding, to name only a few areas.
We’re also concerned about the long-term consequences of abandoning institutional precedent. In order to carry out their plans, Republicans will need to change the basic structure of the Senate in ways they have not yet defined, and will need to rewrite rules that have guided the functioning of the body for more than a century. This editorial page finds this prospect novel and exciting. But significant rule changes typically occur by mutual consent of both sides of the aisle, for the obvious reason that both have to live under the same set of rules, and majorities come and go.
A strict 25-senator majority changing longstanding Senate rules to consolidate their hold on power will surely invite mischief and abuse in the future, and create unintended negative consequences for the public.
You could call that many things. Just don’t call it bipartisan.
State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, is Senate Democratic leader. Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, is the Senate Democratic Caucus chair.