Politics & Government

Initiative 1351 divides Senate Democrats

The Senate’s minority Democrats have been able to keep state lawmakers from making a quick exit after passing a budget, but they aren’t doing it as a united front.

Their top budget negotiator said that’s to be expected.

“There are occasionally disagreements in any caucus,” Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said Tuesday. “We’re not all of one mind.”

That was about all the reaction Hargrove had to learning that Democrats’ leader, Sen. Sharon Nelson, was critical of his comments during the Senate’s post-budget all-nighter last week.

“He was tired, he was worn out, he’s been here six months. It was not the best of moments on the floor for our ranking member,” Nelson, D-Maury Island, said at a Monday news conference.

Hargrove didn’t watch the news conference, he said. He has been back at his regular job as a forester and not in Olympia.

Hargrove and four other members of the Democratic minority joined all Republicans except Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn – and Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn, who switched his vote as a parliamentary maneuver – to try to suspend class-size reduction Initiative 1351.

But they couldn’t summon the two-thirds majority required to change an initiative. That left a $2 billion hole in the two-year budget signed into law hours earlier.

Negotiations to try to resolve the impasse were going on much of Tuesday.

Hargrove said on the floor that funding I-1351 wasn’t one of the priorities his fellow Democrats asked him to fight for in budget negotiations.

Nelson said that’s because it was a separate conversation from the budget.

Another question is whether there was a deal on I-1351. After all, it was the biggest single item that needed resolution to balance what ended up being a $38.2 billion state budget. So when all sides announced a budget deal in Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, they must have figured out what to do about class sizes, right?

Sort of. “There was no deal on 1351. There was an expectation from everybody that it wasn’t going to be funded this time,” Hargrove said.

But that was apparently different than agreeing on exactly what a bill to set it aside would look like and the number of votes each caucus would deliver.

On that point, the Democrats agree.