The campaign doesn't stop for state lawmakers once voters send them back to the Legislative Building. It just turns into a race for the best offices and chairs.
For those who covet a leadership position or a committee chairman’s gavel, now is the time to lobby. Some will be handed out as soon as this week in meetings of the party caucuses.
The first surprise of the Legislature’s reorganization came last week with an announcement by Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way that he would try to unseat House Speaker Frank Chopp, the six-term speaker from Seattle who might be the most powerful politician in state government.
Both are Democrats, but Miloscia has been frustrated by what he sees as House Democrats’ insufficient attention to government reform and their reliance on what he calls budget “gimmicks” such as the soda tax rejected by voters this month.
“Our budgets are unsustainable, and as I said on the (House) floor, the voters are not going to sustain any of our taxes,” said Miloscia, who will be starting his seventh term. “So we’ll be back where we started.”
Miloscia’s bid is the longest of long shots. Some lawmakers were skeptical he would find a single other Democrat who supports replacing Chopp. The vote is planned for Friday, followed by a vote by the full House on the first day of the session.
Chopp didn’t return a message, but like Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane, whom Senate Democrats have already reinstated as their leader, he appears likely to keep his job.
The top Republicans – Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla and House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis – also said they hope to keep their posts in Friday’s elections. Their party fell short of taking over the House or Senate but likely will end up with at least four more seats in each chamber.
SPOTS OPEN FOR MAJORITY LEADERSHIP
Democrats will choose some of Chopp’s top lieutenants.
Majority Leader Lynn Kessler of Hoquiam retired. Budget chairwoman Kelli Linville of Bellingham trailed Republican challenger Vincent Buys by 177 votes as of Friday’s count, and caucus Chairwoman Dawn Morrell of Puyallup trailed challenger Hans Zeiger by 18 votes.
In filling those and other jobs, Democrats will pay attention to political ideology. Chopp, a liberal from Seattle, delegated power to a rural moderate, Kessler, and some see that balance as important, especially after recent tensions between liberal and conservative factions among legislative Democrats.
“We have a lot of dominant personalities who are no longer in our caucus,” said Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes. “This leadership race may be the first indicator about where that new center is in our caucus.”
There’s a long line of Democrats seeking to become majority leader, the No. 2 job in the House:
• Rep. Zack Hudgins of Tukwila, who is the Democrats’ floor leader with authority over the flow of legislation.
• Morris, who has played a visible role as speaker pro tempore, presiding over House sessions.
• Rep. Pat Sullivan, who has been lining up support for his bid for a while. He has worked on budget and education issues and is the only Democrat in his suburban swing district in south King County to survive the election.
• Rep. Larry Springer of Kirkland, who has been a liaison between House Democrats and labor union groups.
• Rep. Larry Seaquist, the retired Navy warship commander from Gig Harbor who voted against key budget and tax bills last year and says Democrats haven’t done enough to restructure government.
Candidates said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, is also running. Dunshee didn’t return a phone message.
It’s possible two of the most important committees in the Legislature, the House and Senate budget committees, will get fresh leaders. It depends on whether Linville has a come-from-behind win and whether Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, remains in that position on the Senate side.
Prentice declined to reveal her plans.
Others would like the Senate budget chairman’s job, even though balancing a $4.5 billion budget short-fall likely will require deep cuts.
“There have been several individuals interested” in the budget chairmanship, said Sen. Tracey Eide of Federal Way, who serves on a committee that recommends committee makeup. She declined to say who.
Staff writer Brad Shannon contributed to this report.