A cordial beginning

Washington Democrats opened the 60th Legislature on Monday with the expected pledges of cooperation and bipartisanship, despite their nearly overwhelming strength of numbers.

Unlike last year, when House Republicans jump-started the session with a demand for an immediate vote on sex offender oversight, both parties stuck to formalities Monday. And unlike two years ago, when the debate over the 2004 governor's race was still raging, there was no question about who was in control.

"Let's start with education, which my mom and dad always said was the best way up and out of poverty," Speaker of the House Frank Chopp said to applause.

The Seattle Democrat helped orchestrate last fall's successful campaigns, leading to a 62-36 majority for his party in the House. In the Senate, Democrats rule 32-17, and they are expected to emphasize issues such as funding for education and increased access to health care and jobs.

'One Washington'

Republicans respectfully vowed to have their say, even if the Democrats have enough votes to move bills without them.

"We will do everything we can to make sure 'one Washington' is represented," House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said.

Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch predicted that his Senate colleagues will be restrained, rather than pursue an aggressively liberal agenda - "simply because they are astute. They'll be wise to play down the social issues and work hard on the financial issues in this session."

Gov. Chris Gregoire reinforced a message of cooperation in a note to lawmakers that Republican Sen. Dale Brandland of Bellingham read on the Senate floor. "We have lots to do and need to do it in a bipartisan manner," Brandland quoted her as saying. "Have a good session."

"They all start the same," Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said of the bipa rtisan talk. "We're all eternal optimists on opening day."

Gregoire, a Democrat, laid the groundwork for the session by proposing a $30 billion general-fund budget over two years. Using much of an expected $1.9 billion surplus, it would increase funding for education at all levels, spend more on environmental cleanup, and expand state health care coverage for children in low-income homes.

Other groups are vying for attention, however. About 100 nursing home workers gathered on the Capitol lawn Monday with signs and slogans.

"There's not enough money to keep staff. There's not enough money to give the best quality care to our residents," said Judy Ferguson, a nurse at Mother Joseph Care Center in Olympia.

Ferguson, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 775, met with lawmakers to support a package that would increase state funding to long-term care homes by $60 million.

"I think they're pretty receptive. They just have to realize that it's a true problem, a big problem," said Ferguson.

She and other lobbyists - volunteer citizens and paid professionals alike - have 104 more days in the regular session to persuade legislators to support their positions.

Swearing in

In the House, all 98 representatives were sworn in at once. The man who will oversee most of their debates on the floor, Speaker Pro Tempore John Lovick, later had perhaps the most emotional moment of the day when his grandmother took the oath of office with him.

Lovick then gave his colleagues debate advice he credited to former President Gerald Ford: "Be brief about it, be right about it, and then simply be gone."

The Senate, however, was less swift - swearing in 16 re-elected and eight newly elected members, one at a time, in a procession that lasted more than an hour.

Some Senate Republicans used the time to make light of their sudden lack of numbers, which translates into a loss of power.

"There's plenty of seating in the caucus," quipped GOP Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn. "They took a table out; instead of a circle it's a horseshoe."

The power differential also means a boost in workload for the minority, since there are 17 Republicans to staff 16 committees in the Senate. "The biggest challenge is having the manpower to deal with the issues," said Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester, who is a member of his caucus' leadership team but also is serving on three committees, one as the ranki ng minority. STATE OF THE STATE

Gov. Chris Gregoire delivers her "State of the State Address" today at 5 p.m. The event will be televised live on TVW, the public-affairs

network that airs on cable Channel 23. Steve Bloom/The Olympian

Related stories from The Olympian