Democrats had a good election across the U.S. last week. In Washington, voters placed the final brick in a so-called West Coast “blue wall” in Washington, Oregon and California.
The missing piece was the Washington Senate. Democrat Manka Dhingra of Redmond completed the job by capturing the 45th Legislative District of east King County, giving her party a one-seat majority in the Washington state Senate.
Barring an unexpected turn in ballot counting, this means that all three coastal states have Democrats in control of the Governor’s Office, House of Representatives and the Senate.
The resulting blue wall may allow for a unified West Coast message of resistance against some of the wrong-way national policies pursued under a Republican-dominated Congress and White House.
That can be good, given President Trump’s erratic responses on immigration, health care reform, Russian interference in the 2016 election, civil rights, tax policy, climate change and the appointment of science-denying politicians to run federal agencies.
Democrats meeting in Olympia in January may feel pent-up desire to make big legislative changes. But Washington is not California where Democrats have big margins.
Measured steps would be better. State Democrats must avoid the unseemly mess we’ve seen in the Other Washington — where one party controls everything and takes little advice from across the aisle.
Better that they look for a middle to progressive path that keeps Washington moving forward on health care, climate action and civil rights.
The key is meeting public needs without inviting a voter backlash. Democrats and Republicans should look for constructive ways to get results, starting with passage of a capital budget.
Another piece of a “do no harm” legislative agenda for 2018 is restoring funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which Congress is letting lapse. Keeping adults insured for health care is another.
Democrats also must help find regional solutions for the humanitarian crisis of homelessness. This plagues too many of our communities and has become an identifiable West Coast problem. The region’s booming tech industry, which pays its workers well, is helping to bid up housing costs, not just in Seattle. This run-up in housing costs resembles what happened in California’s Silicon Valley and San Francisco starting in the 1980s.
But the political reality is that these legitimate actions could lead to higher taxes, which is a sticky issue in an election year. If not played right in legislative session starting in January, things could blow up in the majority party’s face.
Certainly the Senate Republicans’ insistence on raising property taxes this year was not the best approach to funding K-12 public schools. Unfortunately it was the only big solution the GOP would accept — and we’ll have to wait and see if our state Supreme Court thinks it was enough to fix an unconstitutional underfunding issue. Gov. Jay Inslee and others may want to revisit that funding.
We’ve long preferred a new state tax on capital gains earned from investments. That tax could have been used this year to fully finance K-12 public schools and even reduce other taxes. Senate Republicans blocked that reasonable policy and demanded that Democrats help them jack up statewide property tax rates to pay for public schools and reduce local levies.
Similar political risks may apply to Inslee’s proposed tax on carbon content of fossil-fuels to encourage a shift to cleaner forms of energy. He and other Democrats are talking about taking big steps on climate.
After getting blocked from making progress on so many fronts since 2013, progressives who helped elect Dhingra can’t be blamed for wanting the new Senate majority to act swiftly and decisively. But the answer to extremism in one capital is not to copy it in another.
State Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, expects that Democratic control will allow legislation bottled up by Republicans to finally move. This includes a state voting rights act, protection of reproductive rights and health insurance. But he cautioned the Democrats have just a one-seat majority in the state Senate — and slightly more in the House. Plus, Senate Democrats are very diverse with conservatives whose voices serve as a check, he said.
“So we’re not sitting atop a bulldozer,’’ Hunt said.
In the House, Democratic Speaker Frank Chopp of Seattle may again apply the tactical brakes in his caucus. When it comes to taking risks, no one seems more reluctant at times than central bankers or Chopp.
There’s a reason Chopp has served as speaker in more consecutive years than any other politician in our state’s history.