OLYMPIA — As perhaps the most key Republican budget writer at the Legislature these past few years, Sen. John Braun has offered all sorts of detailed proposals as an alternative — and sometimes a counterpunch — to Democratic policies.
Now, with Republican senators electing him as minority leader, Braun, a businessman from Centralia, is set to take that style to the head of his caucus.
After being elected to the post Wednesday, he’ll replace longtime leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who announced Monday he was stepping down from leadership”>he would step down from leadership to become a rank-and-file lawmaker again.
Braun enters the top leadership role as Republicans continue their run in the Senate minority, 21 to 28. But he and other Republicans have been taken solace that they didn’t lose seats overall in November, even as the candidates at the top of their ticket got trounced in Washington.
In an interview, Braun said he wants to find ways to work with Democrats where they can agree — and offer substantive alternatives when they can’t.
“I just think we have an opportunity in our state to offer solutions to our many challenges … that reflect a broader viewpoint,” he said.
“Not just a kind of a very focused central Puget Sound viewpoint,” he added. “But proposals that help all of Washington be successful and feel like they’re well represented in Washington.”
First elected in 2012 to his 20th Legislative District seat, Braun has served for the past several years as the lead Republican budget writer.
It’s a position with enormous stakes and involves negotiating — or, with Republicans in the minority, exhorting Democrats — over taxes and spending in Washington’s sprawling two-year budgets.
This year, Braun, 53, has also served as a foil to Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency restrictions, questioning the specifics behind some public-health metrics recommended for reopening businesses and social activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Outside the Legislature, Braun is president of a company that builds emergency vehicles.
Last month, the senator announced he was preparing legislation intended to create clearer standards for schools to provide education during the pandemic.
“Remote instruction is clearly failing our children, especially students from lower-income families and those who need special-education services,” he said at the time in a statement. “We as a state must find a better way.”
In 2017, Braun was one of the key players in drafting a compromise over a sweeping overhaul of the K-12 education system to resolve the state Supreme Court’s school-funding order known as the McCleary decision.
In a statement, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane called the new leadership role “a well-earned honor for someone who has been at the center of many of the key decisions that have impacted our state in recent years.”
“I have frequently found myself in deep policy debates with Sen. Braun on the Senate floor and at numerous negotiating tables,” said Billig in prepared remarks. “And although we have had differences of opinion on many issues, he has always shown himself to be a thoughtful, honest, and hardworking legislator.”