Two Democratic state senators, including Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina, announced Monday they will join an unprecedented Republican-led Senate coalition that aims to split power between the two parties.
The Majority Coalition Caucus proposes to have six Democrat-led committees, six committees led by Republicans and three panels that are evenly split between the two parties. Those committees will have no more than a one-vote majority.
As part of the coalition's arrangement, Sen. Steve Litzow, of Mercer Island, has been selected to serve as chairman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee and the leader on education issues when legislators convene for the 2013 session. Litzow represents the 41st District, which includes Mercer Island.
“Washington needs a world-class education system,” said Litzow, who served as ranking minority member on education issues the past two years. “There are many students, teachers and administrators who continue to innovate and build better schools. However, we have not kept pace with the education demands of the global marketplace.
Tom, who will serve as the coalition's majority leader, said during a news conference in Olympia that "the public is hungry for us to come together, to work together in a collaborative manner and that's exactly what this coalition is trying to accomplish. We want a cooperative relationship and making sure that we work across party lines."
Sen. Tim Sheldon, of Potlach, who is also a conservative Democrat, will serve as the body's president pro tempore.
The coalition currently has 25 Senate members and Tom hopes other Democrats will join.
Democrats control the House and incoming governor Jay Inslee is a Democrat.
The Senate coalition's governing principles include promoting job growth in a vibrant economy, ensuring a world class education system and building a sustainable budget. Tom noted those are values and needs of the state's middle class.
Republican senators also lauded the effort as an equitable approach that would evenly divide the governing structure across party lines.
But the proposal is drawing opposition from some Democratic Party leaders, who say the coalition is risky and would bring instability and more gridlock to Olympia.
Washington State Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz said in a news release that Sens. Tom and Sheldon stood for re-election as Democrats in 2010.
"But today, (they) turned their backs on the Democratic Party by siding with a radically right Republican caucus that earlier this year attempted to slash critically important funding for education and social services for the elderly and the vulnerable," said Pelz, who added the proposal is a "prescription for instability and division."
He also claims that Tom "instigated this unprecedented coup and joined with Republicans to install himself as majority leader out of a desire to further his own personal ambitions, not out of what is in the best interests of his constituents or the public at large."
However, Tom told the Reporter that the coalition is about governing, not politics.
"The election season is over and citizens want us to govern and get away from political bickering and move forward on the issues," said Tom, noting that he is not joining the coalition for his own personal interests. "I think we have a great opportunity and this is unique in that we're actually listening to voters who want us to govern and get away from politics and to help solve the problems that are the mainstay of middle class families in the state and that's what we intend to do."