Senate Majority Coalition tabs Sheldon as president pro tem, continuing bipartisan tradition

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

OLYMPIA – Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, looks forward to a second term as the Senate’s president pro tempore, following a vote that will take place Monday in the state Senate, the Legislature’s opening day.

Sheldon was selected by his colleagues this week in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. Although the selection does not become official until the formal vote of the full Senate, it is customary for the majority caucus to make its selection before the session begins. The minority party also traditionally nominates a candidate.

Sheldon is currently the only Democratic member of the Senate Majority Caucus. He and former Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, joined with Republican colleagues to forge the bipartisan governing coalition in December 2012. Sheldon says he looks forward to reflecting the principles of bipartisanship that have marked the Senate since the formation of the caucus.

“A presiding officer of the Senate offers parliamentary rulings that facilitate the functioning of the Senate, and must take pains to be even-handed,” Sheldon explained. “The presiding officer must give both sides their due, stand back, permit full and fair debate, and allow members to make their own decisions. The president must never misuse the position to squelch the views of the members and promote his own agenda.”

As Senate president pro tempore, Sheldon will serve as presiding officer when the elected lieutenant governor, an executive-branch officer, is not available to perform those duties. Article II, Section 9 of the Washington Constitution allows members of the Senate to choose a temporary presiding officer to perform parliamentary duties in such cases.

There is one key difference between the president pro tem and the lieutenant governor, however. Because the president pro tem is a member of the Senate, the person who holds that position is permitted to cast a vote on bills and procedural motions with other members of the Senate. The constitution allows the lieutenant governor to cast a vote only in the event of a tie. The point is of particular importance in a year when the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has 25 votes and the Senate Democratic Caucus has 24.

“The powers of the lieutenant governor are actually quite limited,” Sheldon observed. “The lieutenant governor has the ability to cast a tiebreaking vote only when there is an equal division of the Senate, and it is a matter of dispute whether he can do so on the final passage of a bill. The president pro tempore, unlike the lieutenant governor, has the ability and the duty to be involved in the policymaking duties of the legislative branch.”

Sheldon also will serve on the Senate committees on Local Government, Transportation and Energy, Environment and Telecommunications. In addition, the president pro tem traditionally serves as vice chair of the Senate Rules Committee, which determines the legislation that advances to the Senate floor.

This will be Sheldon’s second two-year term as president pro tem. He previously served during the 2013 and 2014 sessions. Sheldon is the longest-serving member of the Legislature, having been elected to the state House of Representatives in 1990 and the Senate in 1997. His 35th Legislative District covers all of Mason County and parts of Thurston and Kitsap counties.