The title “speaker” was first used in 1377 in the English Parliament and has since become a commonly used title in deliberative bodies all over the world.
In Washington, the speaker presides over the House of Representatives, appoints committee chairs, moderates debate and serves as chair of the rules committee, which has a key role in determining the bills that come up for a vote.
But Chris Mooney, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies state legislatures, said that there’s more to the job.
“The leader’s job is to keep members happy,” Mooney said.
Speakers are elected by the majority party or coalition. Mooney said that speakers are tasked with keeping their majority by passing their members’ bills while also keeping a lid on internal conflict.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said that having previously served in the 17th Legislative District would help her understand the needs of her caucus if elected speaker. The 49th District representative is one of several people being mentioned in conversations about succeeding Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, who has said he will relinquish the gavel after this session.
“If we are going to protect our agenda, we need to understand swing districts,” said Rep. Laurie Dolan, D-Olympia, who said that Stonier has already actively campaigned for other House Democrats.
On July 31, House Democrats are expected to pick the next speaker. Their choice will likely be the first woman to hold the position. In November, The Seattle Times reported that Stonier, as well as Reps. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, June Robinson of Everett and Gael Tarleton of Seattle, were interested in running for speaker.
Earlier this month, Washington State Wire reported that Robinson, Stonier and Jinkins were in the running.
Any of the contenders would be the first woman to hold the speaker’s gavel and Stonier would be the first person of color.
While politicians from the Puget Sound dominate the top ranks of Washington’s political leadership, particularly on the Democratic side, there are some exceptions, such as Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, who serves as Senate majority leader. Past Clark County Democratic Reps. Val Ogden and Jim Moeller have also served as speaker pro tempore.
Stonier has said she’s sought leadership positions to raise Southwest Washington’s profile. But she wouldn’t be the first speaker from Clark County. Joseph E. King of Vancouver served as speaker from 1987 to 1991 before making an unsuccessful bid for governor. Prior to that, Robert M. Shaefer of Vancouver served as speaker from 1965 to 1967. Going farther back, Amos F. Shaw of Vancouver served as speaker from 1891 to 1893.