Senate Democrats announced their leadership nominees today, with Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam picked to chair the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Democrats said in a press release the budget-writing team was picked to “include differing viewpoints in a narrowly divided Senate.”
Democrats will hold a slim 26-23 advantage in the state Senate if Republican Don Benton wins a hand recount in Clark County, where he’s ahead by just 82 votes.
Two conservative Democrats, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, could shift that balance of power if they vote with the GOP on budget-related issues, as they did during a surprise coup last session.
Recognizing the partisan divide, Democrats proposed giving the minority Republican party additional seats on all policy committees, including the budget-writing and transportation committees — a move that would give Democrats just one more vote than Republicans.
Senate Democrats also proposed creating a new bipartisan education committee that will look for ways to comply with the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case. The committee would be co-chaired by Democrat Sen. David Frockt and a Republican picked by the party’s caucus.
Democrats nominated Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Vashon Island, to serve with Hargrove as vice chair of powerful budget-writing committee.
Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, is the nominee to lead the transportation committee, with Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens as vice chair.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, was nominated for president pro tem. He would preside over the Senate floor if Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is unavailable.
The appointments have to be approved by the full state Senate. The complete list of Democratic nominees is here.
UPDATE: Outgoing Republican minority leader Sen. Mike Hewitt issued a statement this afternoon congratulating the nominees, but said the GOP may have “additional leadership strategies” in mind. As has been outlined in this Seattle Times story, Senate Republicans and conservative Democrats are reportedly considering a forming a coalition that would force a power-sharing agreement.
Here’s Hewitt’s statement:
“I am encouraged to see that Senate Democrats are now advocating a collaborative approach for 2013; that’s a good start. Speaking as the outgoing leader, however, I know there may be additional leadership strategies that could do a better job of delivering the ongoing reforms the public is demanding. I am confident our new Senate Republican leadership team, which will be elected tomorrow, will be meeting with their Senate Democratic counterparts to discuss how to best serve the people of Washington.”