Senate proves bipartisanship can work in Olympia

Sen. Sheldon’s op-ed from the May 26, 2013, Kisap Sun:

People have low expectations for elected officials. Recent polling from the Pew Research Center shows that 60 percent of Americans don’t trust the government.

Unfortunately, as an elected official myself, I don’t blame them. Hyper-partisanship, unwillingness to listen to the other side and out of touch officials have earned Washington, D.C., and Olympia a reputation for petty and child-like behavior.

I know we can – and must – do better.

When a fellow Democrat and I helped create the Majority Coalition Caucus back in December, we committed ourselves to taking the Washington State Senate in a new direction of solving problems instead of scoring partisan points.

Our caucus’ goals are a sustainable budget, funding education and creating an economic environment where employers can expand their businesses and create new jobs. We are committed to accomplishing these goals while governing through mutual respect and collaboration.

Our budget-writing process is a great example of how the Senate operates. We reached across partisan lines and created a sustainable budget that lives within its means. Two Democrats who are not members our caucus worked on the budget closely with two Republicans.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, a Democrat from outside our caucus, described the budget negotiations as “the most transparent bipartisan process that’s ever happened.”

Our budget was approved by a 30-18 final vote, including nine Democrats and 21 Republicans.  It adds $1 billion to basic education, increases funding to higher education by 11.5 percent and decreases tuition for in-state students by 3 percent without raising broad, general taxes.

Sen. Brian Hatfield, another Democrat from outside our caucus, commented that “This is not a Republican budget.  This is not a Democrat budget.  And that’s a darn good start.”

On every issue, our caucus advanced the best solutions to our state’s problems – regardless of which side of the aisle produced the idea.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, a member of the Senate minority and former chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, observed that the Majority Coalition Caucus is “really trying to do the right thing; they really want to do something to make a difference for those kids that struggle.”

The Senate passed Gov. Inslee’s climate-change legislation, and heard several of his priority bills, including the DREAM Act and the Reproductive Parity Act. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee held a public hearing on every bill that came from the House of Representatives.

In contrast, many good bills, like reforms to Washington’s workers’ compensation system, were approved with bipartisan support in the Senate only to “die” in the House without a hearing.

There is no bipartisanship in the Democratic-controlled House where all committees are chaired by Democrats. The House budget was approved on a nearly party-line vote without any Republican support.

The Legislature must put politics aside and focus on solutions during this special legislative session. The Senate is showing the way, proving bipartisanship can work.  We hope the House and Gov. Inslee will look beyond narrow partisanship and work with our caucus to do what’s best for this state.