Despite rumor, Senate Democrats weren’t drinking the night of crucial vote, colleagues say

State Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg
State Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg Courtesy photo

A GOP lawmaker said state Senate Democrats were “inebriated” last week when they voted against a crucial measure needed to balance the state budget.

But no one has substantiated that claim, and now state Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, is refusing to discuss his comments that “too much alcohol” contributed to Senate Democrats’ actions early Wednesday morning.

When asked about Manweller’s accusation, Sen. Joe Fain, a leader within the Republican Senate majority who was negotiating with Senate Democrats late Tuesday and into Wednesday, said he “didn’t see anything like that.”

“Of the Senate Democrats I worked with that evening, I don’t think that drinking was factor in their decision-making,” Fain, R-Auburn, said Monday.

Manweller took to Facebook and the radio last week to criticize minority Senate Democrats for voting against a bill that would delay implementation of Initiative 1351, last year’s unfunded initiative to lower class sizes in all grades. The state budget the Legislature approved last week hinges on delaying the initiative, which both Republicans and Democrats have said they can’t pay for.

While the Democrat-controlled state House had already approved delaying the initiative with the required two-thirds-majority vote, Senate Democrats wouldn’t supply the votes needed Wednesday morning to shepherd the legislation through the Legislature’s upper chamber.

On Facebook later Wednesday, Manweller blamed Senate Democrats’ actions on “a combination of immaturity, too much alcohol, and a lack of respect for the process and keeping your word.”

“No matter how long I serve, I will never forget the scene last night of inebriated Democrats laughing about how they had screwed everyone including their House Democratic friends and thinking it was funny,” Manweller wrote.

Manweller later told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz that he smelled alcohol in the Senate Democrats’ working area that night, and while he was “not saying that anyone was drunk,” he could tell from their behavior they’d been drinking.

The Washington State Republican Party also sent the text of Manweller’s Facebook post to those who subscribe to the party’s email list.

And Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, repeated the claim that Senate Democrats had been drinking when talking with Mason County’s KMAS NewsRadio last week.

Yet several members of the Capitol press corps who were in the Senate wings overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday did not see Democratic senators consuming alcohol that evening, or showing signs of drunkenness.

Senate Democrats also denounced the notion that they’d been consuming alcohol Tuesday evening or at any point leading up to the 6 a.m. Wednesday vote on whether to delay the class-size initiative.

“My understanding is that this is a complete fabrication,” said Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane and the deputy leader of the Senate Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson on Monday called Manweller’s claims “inappropriate and wrong.”

“That was not what occurred,” said Nelson, D-Maury Island.

Manweller wouldn’t respond to messages from a reporter asking him about his comments. A spokesman for Manweller wrote in an email Monday: “Rep. Manweller is no longer discussing the issue.” MacEwen also declined to discuss his comments further.

On Twitter last week, though, Manweller urged a reporter to contact two other House members who he said walked with him to the Senate wings that night — state Reps. Eileen Cody and Reuven Carlyle, both Seattle Democrats.

However, Cody and Carlyle said they didn’t see any senators who were drinking or who seemed intoxicated, either.

“All I saw anyone drinking was coffee, and that was because they were trying to stay awake,” Cody said. “We went over together, but I didn’t see anything he saw.”

If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be the only untrue thing Manweller posted on Facebook last Wednesday.

When a Facebook commenter asked Manweller why the media didn’t report on Democrats’ behavior, Manweller replied: “It didn’t make the media because all the reporters went home at 1 o’clock in the morning thinking the deals had been reached. The blowup happened at 3 AM.”

After Capitol reporters questioned Manweller on Twitter, noting that several journalists were there overnight until roughly 7 a.m. on Wednesday, he apologized for his mistake.

“I was wrong and want to apologize to the reporters who were at the Capitol doing their jobs until the Senate concluded its work,” Manweller wrote.