The Legislature officially returns to session today at noon with the specifics of how the Senate will work still up in the air. After several Democrats turned down its offers to lead committees, the Republicans-plus-two-Democrats majority in the Senate has issued a new proposal to the minority.
As described in an e-mail that was circulated among Democratic senators over the weekend, it adjusts the committee structure and gives the all-important Rules Committee slightly less of a Republican tilt. More significantly, it acknowledges Democrats have refused to chair Environment, Energy (which would be combined under the latest proposal), Higher Education, Economic Development/Trade and Natural Resources/Parks.
A likely addition to that list is the Human Services and Corrections Committee, which liberal Tacoma Democrat Jeannie Darneille says she has declined to co-chair, leaving it solely to conservative Lakewood Republican Mike Carrell. Darneille said she expects the two to work together well, but said taking the offer would just be "adding to the sham" of a power-sharing arrangement that she argues is designed to present the false appearance of bipartisanship.
That leaves at least three committees up in the air -- Transportation, which Democrats have assigned to Tracey Eide; Agriculture, whose top Democrat is Brian Hatfield, and Financial Institutions and Insurance, whose Democratic lead is Steve Hobbs.
Hobbs, of Lake Stevens, declined last week to say if he would take a chairman's gavel, saying he had a decision to make today. And I couldn't reach Eide over the weekend to ask the Des Moines Democrat whether she would agree to co-chair the Transportation Committee or leave it to GOP Sen. Curtis King.
Hatfield, too, hasn't returned phone calls. But he was quoted by the Daily World of Aberdeen telling a community forum:
Both sides have said they expect some Democrats to accept. A member of the majority coalition, Potlatch Democrat Tim Sheldon, declined to give details but said a morning announcement is planned. "Hopefully they'll participate," he said of minority Democrats.
Those who told me they declined offers include Darneille, Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle (offered the chair of Higher Education), Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island (offered the chair of Environment or co-chair of Energy) and Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge Island (offered the chair of Natural Resources and Parks). Andy Billig of Spokane and Maralyn Chase of Shoreline presumably also declined, since Democrats listed them as ranking members of the former energy committee and the trade committee, respectively.
Some Democrats who are declining the offers contend the coalition is presenting a bipartisan face but denying them any real power. They say their committees could approve proposed legislation only to see it founder in the important Rules Committee, or blocked from a floor vote by the majority coalition.
Rolfes said Sunday she doesn't "want to be a puppet in a puppet show." And Darneille said Saturday:
Majority Leader Rodney Tom said last week the offers are authentic. He's not "using these guys for window dressing," he said. "I just don't treat people that way."
Ranker said he didn't want to be part of a process run by Republicans who have a poor record on conservation measures and who have made clear they won't take up social issues such as reproductive rights. He said he wouldn't "abandon" his "core values in order for a title of Chair."