State Sen. Karen Fraser is in line to become chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus next month, and the current chairman, Sen. Ed Murray, is moving to chair the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The move would make Fraser the highest ranking Democratic lawmaker from South Sound in three decades, rivaled only by House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis.
"I think it's good to change what you are doing once in a while," Fraser said today after the announcement. "My goal is do my best to help the caucus work together to have a productive session." Fraser said she was looking ahead to a tough legislative session punctuated by budget cuts and likely no new revenues. She said that as an individual lawmaker she would focus on finding “fairness for state employees,” traffic solutions along Interstate 5, and Puget Sound – and she is retaining her positions on the Environment, Water and Energy Committee and also the Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee and Rules.
Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia said the move could help Thurston County as well as the other 22nd district lawmakers in the House, who will have a high-ranking friend in the other chamber.
"I think that when you've got somebody sitting around the table in the No. 2 spot you're still a player in the budget and still making decisions about what we bring to the floor and don’t bring to the floor," Hunt. "It’s easier to go down and knock on the door of the governor when you are caucus chair."
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The musical chairs are part of a Senate Democratic Caucus shakeup that also sends current Ways and Means Chair Margarita Prentice to president pro tempore, replacing Sen. Rosa Franklin of Tacoma who retired; Prentice is to preside over the Senate in the absence of Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, the Senate president.
Go here for our partner Jordan Schrader’s posting on Sen. Murray and Democratic Sen. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor being named to the top Ways and Means jobs.
Here is the Senate announcement on Murray. And here is the announcement of other committee chairs, including four new ones: Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver, Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections; Rodney Tom of Medina, Higher Education and Workforce Development; Kevin Ranker of San Juan, Natural Resources and Marine Waters; and Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance.
The Senate moves are not yet carved in stone and need to be formally approved by the 27-member Senate Democratic Caucus when it meets in Olympia on Dec. 7-8 during committee assembly days. But Fraser, who is giving up her capital-budget chairmanship to take the leadership role, said she is not aware of anyone else gunning for the No. 2 spot.
The Senate caucus re-elected Sen. Lisa Brown of Spokane to a fourth term as majority leader two weekends ago. Both chambers of the House plan reorganizations this week – on Friday.
Hunt had been the high-ranking Democrat from South Sound in recent years, serving two years as House floor leader, the No. 4 spot. His predecessor, former Rep. Cathy Wolfe, served as Democrats’ whip until she left for the Thurston County Commission in 2000. And on the Republican side, Rep. Gary Alexander has served several years as the GOP’s ranking member on the House Ways and Means (or Appropriations) Committee.
Asked what the Senate changes could mean, Hunt joked: "It means Derek is one of my new best friends."
Fraser said that she's heard good things about Murray, the former House capital-budget and transportation committee chairman, who moved to the Senate and was the caucus lead on negotiating a tax package earlier this year.
"I think he'll do a great job. People who have worked with him on budgets before say he has a history of working across party lines. I think we want everything to be as bipartisan as possible," Fraser said.Looking ahead to session, Fraser said: "The question will be – what do you cut and how? What do you reconfigure and how?"
Staff at the Office of the Secretary of the Senate said that former Sen. Gary Odegaard, a Democrat representing the 20th district, was elected Senate Democratic Caucus chairman in 1977. He left office in 1980 and was the highest Democratic South Sound lawmaker since that decade. Former Sen. Harry B. Lewis was elected minority floor leader from the 22nd district for the Republicans in 1973.
Democrat George F. Yantis was elected House speaker out of the 22nd district in 1933 and again in 1945, and Republican Mark Reed of Shelton was elected speaker out of the 31st district, which reached into South Sound at that time.