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Jan. 29, 2023

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Republican minority unfazed by ‘blue wall’

County’s GOP state senators say they don’t expect much to change

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:
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The Legislative Building in Olympia is shown at dusk in March 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S.
The Legislative Building in Olympia is shown at dusk in March 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) Photo Gallery

When Democrat Manka Dhingra prevailed over Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund in a special state Senate election in King County, it meant an end to the GOP’s control of the chamber and a return to one-party dominance in Washington.

The election’s result means that Democrats will now control the governorships and legislatures of the entire West Coast. Shortly after the election, state Sen. Sharon Nelson, the Washington Senate’s new majority leader, told The New York Times that the results meant a “blue wall” that would stretch “from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.”

But while Clark County’s two Republican state senators have some concerns about the goals of the newly dominant party, they said that not all that much will change with the Democrats holding the chamber by one vote.

“I’m in very good spirits,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, just days after the Democrats were poised to take control of the Senate. “I don’t really think it changes very much for me personally, because I have very strong relationships with (members of the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate).

“Our Southwest Washington delegation is working so well and in a bipartisan way, that I believe there is a very good chance that our region may not notice a difference,” said Rivers, a key negotiator in a school funding package that passed with bipartisan support in a special session earlier this year.

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said that she’s used to being in the minority after having previously served in the Democrat-dominated House. Being in the minority requires playing more defense than offense, she said.

The new majority means that Wilson will no longer chair the Senate Higher Education Committee. As for her legislative approach, she said, “I’m just going to continue to work with my colleagues in the forthright manner that I do.”

Earlier this year, Wilson successfully sponsored a bill that amended the state’s Growth Management Act to allow freight-dependent developments in Clark County. The legislation was a rare amendment to Washington’s overarching land-use law that passed with bipartisan support and was signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

“If you can disagree respectfully and present your views thoughtfully, that goes a long way in the legislative process,” she said.

Wilson said that the idea of a “blue wall” has been overplayed, pointing out that some Democrats disagree with their leadership on some issues.

“They really are going to have to work with both sides,” she said.

The 2018 session is slated to start Jan. 8 and last until March 8. It will be shorter than this year’s regular session, which began in January and lasted until April followed by special sessions that didn’t end until July.

Rivers said that in the short session, she expects the Legislature to revisit its school funding package in response to a court ruling but said she doesn’t expect larger initiatives.

However, both Rivers and Wilson said they have concerns that Democrats will pursue taxes on capital gains and carbon emissions, a long-sought-after priority of Inslee’s.

Rivers, who said she campaigned for Englund, argued that having divided government in Washington has been an important “check and balance” that has fostered compromises and solutions that have worked well for the state.

“I’ve seen the Legislature do things that make people feel completely disenfranchised, and I don’t think that’s what government is meant to do,” she said.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, wasn’t available for comment and a call to the Senate Democrats wasn’t returned.

But in an audio message posted to the Senate Democrat’s website on Nov. 13 Nelson, the chamber’s majority leader, identified some of the issues they will address in the 2018 session.

Nelson stated she would prioritize passing the capital budget, which contains $4 billion in funding for construction projects across the state. While it passed the House earlier this year, it was stalled in the Senate where Republicans refused to act on it until the Legislature also agreed to fix a Supreme Court decision that’s stalled development in rural areas.

“Secondly, we really need to protect women in the time of the Trump administration and look at what we can do to protect women’s reproductive health,” Nelson said in the message. She also said the Senate would take up issues affecting the LGBTQ community in addition to campaign finance and voting rights.

In an email, Todd Donovan, a professor of political science at Western Washington University, wrote that the Democrats are in a position to clear lower-hanging fruit such as the capital.

“Movement on a carbon tax, or other large scale changes, might need a larger margin than one seat,” he wrote.

Inslee, who’s seen his agenda stymied by Republican control of the Senate, seemed reserved about a possible reversal of fortune in an interview with The Associated Press.

“With very closely held margins like this, neither party controls the Legislature,” Inslee said.

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Columbian political reporter