Republicans in the Washington state Senate face a perfect storm following Wednesday’s death of veteran lawmaker state Sen. Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood).
During the entire 2013 session, political seas have held treacherous obstacles for Republicans on their way to establishing goals of spending restraint and reform as valid destinations for budget and policy negotiations.
Until Wednesday, there had been a 25-24 razor-thin margin between the Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition and Democratic caucuses in the Washington state Senate. Carrell’s passing creates the real potential for a 24-24 tie along caucus lines.
Lt Gov. Brad Owen (D) has made no bones about it; he believes he has the legal authority to cast votes on the Senate floor to break ties, meaning that Democrats now have an effective majority. Republicans and others have raised serious legal and constitutional challenges to Owen’s assertion.
Recent history assures us that use of rules concerning the “9th Order of Business” – Senate rules that allows bills to come to the floor for a vote without prior committee approval and by a simple majority vote – is not a matter of Olympia folklore and legend.
Democrats attempted to use the 9th Order earlier this year during regular session, but were unable to muster enough votes to move their bills onto the floor. In that instance, it was Carrell’s colleague, state Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam), who cast a proxy vote for Carrell against the 9th Order move.
For example, a bill containing $900 million in new taxes could be plucked from committee and brought to the floor upon a motion by, perhaps, Senate Democratic Floor Leader David Frockt (D-Seattle), the Senate could tie 24-24 and Owen could then cast the deciding 25th vote.
So, taxpayers across Washington state may not yet realize it (Seattle Times, pick up your phone!), but they’re caught in the crosswinds of this political tempest, too.
According to buzz tweeted Friday by the Washington Focus website, the 9th Order maneuver that some Republicans see as a coup abetted by Senate rules and unfortunate circumstance, could be planned for Monday:
#waleg rumor buzzing that Democrats may be planning a 9th Order takeover of state Senate as early as Monday morning’s session.
— Washington Focus (@WashingtonFocus) June 1, 2013
Republicans foresaw that possibility earlier in this week, and have been scrambling to expeditiously replace Carrell and restore the composition in the Senate that voters chose through elections and take the scepter out of Owen’s hands.
The Pierce County Republican Central Committee voted Thursday night to ratify PCOs top three picks to succeed Carrell – in order of preference, former Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri, attorney and state Rep. Steve O’Ban, and University Place Councilman Javier Figueroa.
Though the three nominees to fill the vacancy Carrell leaves in the 28th legislative district have been selected by Pierce County Republicans, the Pierce County Council must make the final selection of who will succeed Carrell.
Though Muri was the top pick, the County Council is not required to rubberstamp the Committee’s decision. If councilmembers with Republican loyalties need a reason to step toward O’Ban – aside from the attorney and first-term legislator’s endorsement by Carrell’s widow, Charlotte – they could look to the most recent election results from the 28th legislative district to discover who Carrell’s constituents may prefer as their representative.
In 2012, Muri ran in the open contest for the newly created 10th congressional district, losing by a 5-point margin to Democrat Denny Heck in among voters in the 28th LD. O’Ban, on the other hand, cruised to a double-digit victory over Democratic opponent Eric Choiniere. Politically speaking, O’Ban may be something of an unknown quantity, but if Muri is to be considered “known” by comparison there’s data there to conclude that voters have had their taste and moved on.
In addition to who to choose, the Council also has to consider possible legal challenges to a speedy appointment. Telegraphed threats have made their way through the grapevine that, should they expedite their vote, the decision could face an immediate legal challenge from Democrats. In such a challenge, a judge could order a stay that would preempt the seating of a replacement.
Public notice laws for official meetings have tripped the Council in the road to expedition, however, calling into question whether they can select Carrell’s replacement at their scheduled Tuesday June 4 meeting, or whether they would be required to wait until June 11. June 11 also happens to be the final day of the current special legislative session.
An emergency provision in the Council’s charter would allow them to suspend by two-thirds vote the regular rules regarding advance public notice for official meetings.
According to The Tacoma News Tribune, the Council used the emergency provision to make a swift appointment to the Sound Transit Board in 2010. In that light, an argument that rules could be suspended in this case to prevent an entire legislative district from losing its representation on critical issues before the Legislature seems rational and well-founded.
Oh, yes, and voters should remember that prior to this year, even all of these cascading circumstances would not have created the opening for Democrats to unilaterally raise taxes. In a series of ballot measures passed by an overwhelming majority of voters, the Legislature had lived under an imposed two-third voting requirement for increasing taxes. The state Supreme Court ruled the two-thirds requirement unconstitutional in February.
“No taxation without representation.” That’s a golden oldie that never goes out of style.