Washington State Senate: Republicans Claim Majority After Democrats Defect

Dec 10, 2012 | Updated Dec 11, 2012

Two Democratic Washington state senators have decided to caucus with the opposition party, handing control of the state Senate to Republicans -- the second state Senate to flip to GOP control in less than a week.

State Sens. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue) and Tim Sheldon (D-Potiatich) announced Monday that they would caucus with Senate Republicans, flipping the chamber's 26-23 Democratic majority to a 25-24 Republican coalition majority, The Seattle Times reports. Tom will become majority leader in the new coalition-led Senate, with committee chairmanships being split between both parties. Last week, five Democratic state senators in New York, who belong to the Independent Democratic Conference, formed a coalition with state Senate Republicans.

Tom and Sheldon told The Seattle Times they believed the new coalition would allow more effective governing.

"This is not about power. This is not about control," Tom told the newspaper. "This is about governing in a collaborative manner."

Tom's comments were similar to those by New York state Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) on why his group joined Republicans. Under the New York plan, Klein and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) will rotate the office of temporary president of the Senate every two weeks and will have equal say in setting the Senate agenda and making patronage appointments. In addition to the coalition, New York state Sen.-elect Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) said he would join the GOP caucus.

A Washington state Senate press release said Republicans would chair committees overseeing the budget, health care, education, government operations and elections, tribal relations, commerce, labor and the judiciary. Democrats will helm committees overseeing natural resources, parks, agriculture, trade, economic development, banking and insurance, higher education, the environment and water. Co-chairs will be named to committees overseeing corrections, human services, transportation and energy.

In New York, committee chairmanships have not been announced. For the past several years, New York's Senate has had several bipartisan committee chairs, with the Independent Democratic Conference members chairing four committees over the last two years. In 2010, under a Democratic majority, Republicans chaired the energy and mental health committees.

While New York saw the state Senate go from Republican to Democratic in the election before the flip, Democrats had retained the Washington state Senate in the election. The Washington House of Representatives remains Democratic, along with Gov.-elect Jay Inslee (D).

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