[Subsequent to our original report, TVW’s video of activity on the Senate floor has become available. We have inserted that video with some additional commentary below.]
An unsuccessful attempt Tuesday by Democrats in the Washington State Senate to grab the reins of power is generating a negative reaction, not due to the failure of the maneuver but because of the way the power play appears to have been timed to coincide with one senator and working mother’s break to nurse her child.
Though Democrats technically hold a majority in the Washington state Senate, a Majority Coalition Caucus formed of Republicans and two fiscally conservative Democrats holds a one vote margin. The razor-thin balance of power became real when Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry (R-Moses Lake) was excused from the Senate floor to nurse her four-month-old child and Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) immediately moved to bring a transportation bill up for a vote that was not part of the official Senate order for the day.
It was a move that might have made Seinfeld‘s grandma-shoving George Costanza proud, but which has left many lawmakers in Olympia stunned and outraged.
From veteran reporter Erik Smith’s breaking story about the incident at Washington State Wire:
When state Sen. Janea Holmquist (R-Moses Lake) left the Senate floor Tuesday to nurse her newborn son, Senate Democrats didn’t miss a beat.
Immediately they moved to take over the chamber.
While minority Democrats say an important political point was at stake, outraged members of the Republican-leaning majority coalition caucus say a greater principle of basic human decency is involved. …
“I think it is shameful for them to make her choose between being on the floor and voting and nursing her child,” said state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. “This caucus, which presents itself as being the caucus of families, would willingly drive a wedge between a mother and her infant?…”
TVW video (below) documents the speed of Frockt’s power grab. Within seconds of Holmquist Newbry’s excusal being asked for and granted over the Senate chamber public address system, Frockt moved in to request consideration of a transportation bill that was not on the Senate order for the afternoon.
The Democrats’ politically shrewd and optically obtuse move comes as a Wednesday deadline looms to pass bills out of their house of origin or have them set aside for the current session.
Political observers will remember the electric atmosphere in the Washington State Senate last year when Republicans in the minority used a parliamentary maneuver to seize control for long enough to push through a budget that had the support of enough moderate Democrats to pass. The idea of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — a shared power arrangement made possible by two moderate Democrat senators — was born in that episode, a development that has also given birth to chronic hair-pulling (or hand-wringing in the case of follicle-challenged state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz) among Democratic bosses.
Perhaps the frustration over the losing the reins to a Republican-leaning bipartisan coalition is to blame for Democrats’ lack of respect.