We sat down with state Sen. Ed Murray this weekend to do an extended interview like the ones we've already published with the other top-shelf mayoral candidates: incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn; City Council members Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell, and former council member Peter Steinbrueck.
We'll publish our whole interview with Murray soon. In the meantime, since this very issue came up in the comments thread yesterday when we ran an excerpt of the interview that dealt with police accountability, here's what Murray had to say when we asked him why, under his brand-new leadership, the state senate immediately fell out of Democratic hands; or as we put it to Murray: "Some people say Ed Murray really screwed up this session by letting the Republicans take over. How do you respond?"
The senate is now run by the "Majority Coalition Caucus," a group of 23 Republicans and two conservative Democrats, Sens. Rodney Tom (D-48) and Tim Sheldon (D-35) who bolted from Murray's caucus. Meanwhile, even conservative Democrats such as Sens. Brian Hatfield (D-19), Steve Hobbs (D-44), and Tracey Eide (D-30), who remained in the Democratic caucus, all helped give a patina of bipartisanship to Tom's pro-Republican coup by accepting Tom's offer to chair committees).
Here's what Murray said:
I think, first of all, that my own constituents don't view it as, 'Ed Murray screwed up.' I think they view it as, Rodney Tom, who for years now has not been happy as a Democrat and has been very vocal about that, threw [then Senate majority leader] Lisa Brown under the bus on a budget that she let him write. [Tom voted against the Democratic budget he helped write as ways and means vice chair—Eds.]
So it's not like this is a surprise. I think the surprise is it didn't happen earlier. My response is that we've been mostly successful at messaging, which is one of the things the minority does.
And we stopped some of the things they wanted to do. The [Guaranteed Education Tuition] program [which allows parents to pre-pay for in-state tuition for their kids]—Rodney wanted to shut down GET. And now GET is going to survive. A bunch of education bills that were a direct attack on public school system either got better or died. The [anti-]workers' comp bills mostly died. So I think we've been effective in the minority.
The ones that got out did have had that pack of [Sens. Steve] Hobbs (D-44) Brian Hatfield (D-19), and Tracey Eide (D-30) supporting them. That is no different than it has been in the entire time in the senate, that there is a group of senators who loosely associated or actually were members of the Roadkill Caucus [a group of conservative Democrats], who continue to vote with the Republicans.
I don't think that is an issue that people hold me responsible for. If anything, I think we've improved the atmosphere. If anything, I think the Roadkill members are more involved than they were in the past. I've brought them into the room. I've invited them to be at the table.
A couple of editorial footnotes. First, you have to wonder why the formal GOP coup didn't happen earlier. Could it have been that Murray wasn't the caucus leader? To Murray's credit, though: Last year, then-ways and means chair Murray ended up winning the budget battles despite the GOP budget coup. We'll have to wait and see how the budget works out this time to gauge if things are better or worse—or basically the same, only with a more formalized version of Republican power in place.
Second, Murray's right that the Democratic minority stopped Tom's attempt to defund GET. They also stopped some other MCC agenda items, including legislation to undo the voter-approved renewable energy mandate for utilitites; a bill to repeal the Family and Medical Leave Act; and a bill to fast track a new coal terminal in Whatcom County and the Hood Canal gravel project.
But the MCC also passed a batch of legislation to roll back workers' compensation (hyper partisan legislation that besmirched the bipartisan compromise reached just two years ago even though, as Murray contends, the basic vote count in the senate hasn't changed); obstructed the Reproductive Parity Act; and finally, in perhaps a direct shot and Murray and his run for mayor, undid Seattle's own paid sick leave law.