IT’S nothing new for Democrats and Republicans in our state Legislature to work together. However, it’s another thing entirely for lawmakers to govern together — to share the responsibility and authority across party lines when it comes to acting on legislation. Yet that is exactly what a majority in our state Senate has planned when the 2013 legislative session convenes Jan. 14.
We and 23 other senators or senators-elect have signed on as members of a new, bipartisan governing group we’re calling the “Majority Coalition Caucus.” Our intent is straightforward and unprecedented: to change how the Senate works, encouraging its members to cooperate and collaborate like never before and establishing a style of lawmaking that promotes policy over politics.
The people of our state have already seen the good that can happen when legislators set aside their political affiliations and govern cooperatively. That happened late in the 2012 session, when Republican and Democratic senators formed a “philosophical majority” and accomplished what the Senate’s political majority could not. We were among the leaders of that 25-member bipartisan coalition and are still proud of the sustainable budget our efforts produced and the groundbreaking state-government reforms we tied to it. Of the 46 senators casting votes on the final budget, 44 said “yes,” possibly making it the most bipartisan budget vote in state Senate history.
Now we are presented with an opportunity to see just how effective a bipartisan coalition can be if given a full legislative session in which to govern. We were heartened to see that the new Senate Democratic leader Ed Murray of Seattle made welcome overtures that would appear to suggest a move toward the political center — the place where many Washingtonians want their lawmakers to be. However, his ideas don’t go nearly as far as the changes our Majority Coalition Caucus plans to make.
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The very core of the Senate, the 12 policy and three fiscal committees that consider legislation and decide whether to move it forward, will be restructured. Previously, all the committees were chaired by Democrats. Control of those committees now will be divided among the two parties, with six committees being chaired by Democrats and six by Republicans, with the remaining three having Republican and Democratic co-chairs. It’s powerful proof of the commitment our caucus members have made to work together and share control of the lawmaking process.
Also, the membership of each committee won’t be stacked in one party’s favor. The Senate budget committee had 13 Democrat members and only nine Republican members these past two years; in 2013 it and the rest of the committees will have no more than a one-member difference between the two parties.
We believe these fundamental changes — things that would never even be considered in Washington, D.C. — will do much to help our Senate committees focus on the merits of a policy rather than the politics associated with it. We also believe these changes will create an environment in which senators will be comfortable bringing their best ideas to the committees, without fear that their proposals will be summarily shot down on purely partisan grounds.
Our Majority Coalition Caucus stands at 25 senators, each of whom has committed in writing to five principles. We want to promote job growth and a vibrant economy; craft a sustainable state budget by living within our means; provide for a world-class education system through reforms and enhancements; govern collaboratively to protect our most vulnerable while prioritizing the needs of middle-class Washingtonians; and set priorities for state government and hold its agencies accountable. Any other senator who agrees with these principles is welcome to join with us in this new approach to governing.
Citizens across our state and our nation are tired of the partisan gridlock they see going on in Washington, D.C. They are crying out for their leaders to work together in a cooperative and equitable way. Here in Washington state we will lead the way.
State Sen. Rodney Tom, a Democrat from Bellevue, will serve as Senate majority leader. Sen. Mark Schoesler, a Republican from Ritzville, serves as Senate Republican Caucus leader.