State Sen. Ed Murray is the new Senate majority leader. The Seattle Democrat replaces retiring Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

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OLYMPIA — Budget-committee chairman Sen. Ed Murray was picked Tuesday to be the new state Senate majority leader.

Murray, D-Seattle, was chosen by his caucus to replace retiring Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

The move makes Murray the highest-ranking openly gay lawmaker in the state. He also would be the country’s only gay state Senate majority leader, according to the D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which closely tracks gay lawmakers.

Murray, who has served as the Senate Ways and Means chairman for the past two years, will have a slim Democratic majority to work with and the prospect that conservative members of his caucus could defect to work with Republicans.

There’s even been talk in recent days — by Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch — of a power-sharing arrangement with the GOP. Both Tom and Sheldon crossed party lines last session, along with retiring Sen Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, to give Republicans control of the Senate budget.

“I think that leadership and committee chairs and committee assignments should be decided by the entire body,” Sheldon said.

Murray dismissed the idea. He said he’s open to some committees being chaired by Republicans but, “My belief is that somebody needs to be in control, otherwise we’ll have chaos on the floor.”

If it came down to a power-sharing deal, Murray said, it might be better for Tom and Sheldon to caucus with Republicans and let the GOP take control.

Republican Senate Leader Mike Hewitt’s response? “Gosh, I like the way he thinks.”

Both Tom and Sheldon ruled out caucusing with the Republicans.

Currently, Democrats control the Senate by a 27 to 22 majority. It’s possible Republicans could pick up one seat, depending on the outcome of a close race between Republican state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Democratic Rep. Tim Probst. Benton pulled ahead Tuesday afternoon by 65 votes, a matchup surely headed for a recount.

If Benton wins, Tom and Sheldon would be key swing votes for Republicans. If he loses and Democrats keep the current majority, talk of sharing power may become moot.

In any case, Murray said that as majority leader, he will reach out to Republicans.

Murray also said that finding ways to put more money into K-12 and higher education will be his top goal.

He’s also considering a possible run next year as Seattle’s mayor and said a decision on that will be made either before the session starts, or after it ends. In either case, he will stay on as majority leader this session, he said.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or