Politics & Government

Senate Republicans end committee power sharing with Democrats

Republicans have ended a power-sharing arrangement in the state Senate after two years of letting Democrats hold leadership positions in some committees.

When Democratic defections allowed Republicans to take over the Senate in December 2012, they offered to make some members of the minority Senate Democratic Caucus the chairmen or co-chairmen of selected committees.

Most refused the offer, but Democrats Tracey Eide of Des Moines, Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens and Brian Hatfield of Raymond accepted.

“This new caucus will conduct the Senate’s business in a truly bipartisan way, sharing committee control and governing together,” GOP leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said at the time in a statement announcing a new Majority Coalition Caucus.

But Republicans won an outright majority in last month’s election, and while they kept the name and made Schoesler majority leader, they announced Tuesday a committee structure entirely led by Republicans.

Democrats will continue to lead all committees in the House after voters cut their majority down by four members.

Changes in both chambers include:

• Curtis King, R-Yakima, will be the sole chairman of the Senate transportation committee he formerly split with Eide, who didn’t run for re-election. King, in a statement, called out “the need for a new reform and transportation-revenue package” that would address both “critical road and bridge issues” and the state Department of Transportation’s “high-profile fiascos.”

• Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, will replace Hatfield in charge of the Senate committee on agriculture.

• Don Benton, R-Vancouver, will take over the Senate banking and insurance committee formerly led by Hobbs and then jointly by Hobbs and Republican Jan Angel of Port Orchard.

• Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, who replaced Eide, will lead a new Senate committee on government accountability and reform.

• Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, will replace John Braun, R-Centralia, atop the Senate committee on trade.

• Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, will take over a vacancy at the top of the important Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

• Tacoma Republican Steve O’Ban’s renamed Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee will lose prison issues and add housing issues.

• Spending-related panels led by two defeated House Democrats, Kathy Haigh of Shelton and Dawn Morrell of Puyallup, will be abolished.

• Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, will lead the House Higher Education Committee, replacing another Democrat who lost re-election, Larry Seaquist of Gig Harbor.

• A reshuffling of jurisdiction in the House will give a new name, Commerce and Gaming, to Enumclaw Democrat Chris Hurst’s committee. It will hand over government oversight to a wide-ranging panel led by Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, but will continue to oversee marijuana, liquor and gambling.

Other South Sound lawmakers kept their committee chairmanships, including Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, on Health Care; Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, on Governmental Operations; Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, on the renamed House State Government; Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, on House Judiciary; and Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, on the House business and banking committee.

There are changes in each majority’s leadership roster. In the House, Kris Lytton of Anacortes will replace Tami Green of Lakewood as Democrats’ floor leader. Green was defeated in a bid for the Senate.

In the Senate, Braun replaces Benton and Angel replaces Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup in leadership slots.

Dammeier won’t lead a committee but will now be the vice-chairman of three key committees dealing with education, health care and the budget.

The 105-day legislative session starts Jan. 12.