Local senators split along party lines over coalition

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Legislative action

Coalition takes the reins in Senate.

OLYMPIA -- The Senate's opening-day action to form a conservative coalition and split committee leadership met with opposing reactions from local legislators.

"This group of lawmakers … has stepped forward and committed to work together like never before," said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, in a press release, pointing out that the coalition puts four of five Southwest Washington senators in the majority.

Senate rules passed Monday allow a majority coalition, like the one formed between the 23 Republican senators and conservative Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, to caucus to discuss legislation and vote on a majority leader.

"The rules that we adopted today allow for the coalition to elect a Senate majority leader," said Benton. "The rules needed to be tweaked slightly to allow us to do that."

Tom, D-Medina, is expected to be named majority leader of the coalition.

Previously, only members of the same political party could caucus to choose a majority leader.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, was disappointed by Monday's action.

"I don't know that we needed a change in the rules in order to work together," she said. "I question whether that was necessary."

She voted against the resolution to change the rules.

The Democrats countered the coalition's resolution with one of their own to establish co-chairs of every committee. Their proposal was rejected 23-25.

The coalition elected Sheldon, D-Potlatch, as president pro tempore of the Senate on Monday. With the passage of Resolution 8601, Sheldon also becomes co-chair of the Rules Committee, which considers all bills reported from other policy and fiscal committees.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, voted for the coalition's resolution, but was unavailable for an interview afterward because she was feeling ill. Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and John Braun, R-Centralia, also voted for the resolution.


Lucas Wiseman: 360-754-5225; lucas.wiseman@email.wsu.edu.