Premera lobbyist Len Sorrin/ An assault on the teachers' union health care plan is, ironically, watered down by the GOP after Premera teamed up with the union against the legislation.
I sent out an email yesterday to Democratic and Republican legislators and staffers and to a batch of lobbyists asking for their takes on the winners and losers of the legislative session. I was going to read through all the responses, stroke my chin, and report back with a definitive piece of analysis signed by me.
But the answers were so contradictory (the teachers' union was a big winner, the teachers' union was a big loser) with compelling commentary coming from all sides, that I've decided to post the responses I got verbatim—anonymously, of course. —Eds.
From one-liners to essays, here are some of the emails that came in:
The bipartisan Senate coalition is a big winner. They moved the ball tremendously from where they began the session to where it ended. They got their three big reforms, took the governor's tax package off the table, moved the $330 million cut to schools (apportionment payment skip) off the table, and took the $2 billion deficit that the House D budget would have created off the table.
Unemployed, soon-to-be-employed, construction workers families are a winner.
Washingtonians. Sorry to start off on a sappy note. The Democrats passed a budget that literally all Washingtonians can stand behind. The margin of passage is huge. Plus, 18,000 more of them will have jobs.
Big tobacco. The roll your own bill provides taxing for in-store machine rolled smokes on par with pre-rolled counterparts like marbs, camels, parliaments (personal fav), etc. Since the price of RYOs will go up from being subject to the tax, many will just bite the bite the bullet and go back to the big brands. They really wanted the bill.[pullquote]I would note that every one of those Senate moderates comes from suburban Puget Sound districts, neither red nor blue, but sort of purple.[/pullquote]
Students. No cuts to K-12 and higher education.
Ed Murray. It was a messy process and the Senate Ds did lose a 9th order battle. But the entire thing was a power play. The Republicans got the chance to govern. And once they got the power, Sen Rs had no idea what to do with it so they just kept negotiating amongst themselves, backing off on their initial extremist agenda. They fumbled it and the Gov came in with her deal. There were a lot of stories about disunity in our caucus because the three broke away. But disunity in theirs preventing them from taking advantage of a huge opportunity. The Gov will get all the credit, not them.
Gov Gregoire. She was amazing. Tireless, ruthless, driven. A key component to us getting here.
Obamacare. Even if the mandate is overturned, we will still have our healthcare exchange.
WEA. There were fighting a war on 3 fronts. Teacher evals, charter schools and KEBB (K-12 benefits merger). Charters died, eval was a tolerable compromise, and while they didn't like KEBB, it's a far cry from the initial proposal or the one that passed the Sen in the closing days. The ability of theirs to mobilize their base around KEBB was incredibly impressive. They held 1,000 person rallies in swing vote members' home towns and went after members by name paper and net adverts.
Derek Kilmer. Passed his jobs package. Will be a good selling point this fall.
The gays. Passed marriage equality.
Losers:[pullquote]Loser. Gregoire. Sure, her super power as a negotiator was exactly what the state needed. But she wanted a legacy like marriage equality, not the weirdest special session in a generation. [/pullquote]
Steve Hobbs – his K12 bill was the ugliest legislative fight of the year (compare to marriage equality). His abortion-access bill stalled. He was very nearly burned in effigy by the WEA. He stuck with Democrats, but seems to get no credit for his loyalty among the libs. And the whole while the race in the 1st seemed to get tougher and rougher as session wore on.
Big pharma. Not only did Medicaid fraud pass, so did another bill reforming the way we pursue it so we are more effective at doing so. Last year when the bill died, pharma lobbyists outside the House started cheering and high-fiving.
Pam Roach. Obvi. This will end up costing the state some actual coin, not mere budget dust like her past incidents. TNT did a pretty scathing editorial on the whole thing as well, which is actually the paper of greatest circulation in her district. Their entire caucus looked like they auctioned off the safety of their employees for a vote on a shitty budget. This is what cynics think of when they talk about politics.
Republican Sen. Mike Baumgartner. He needed to use this session to make some serious news if he has any hope of beating Maria in the fall. Voting with the Democrats on a few key Democratic bills could have helped him with his moderate cred which is critical to being elected statewide (see: Rob McKenna). Instead he marched to the beat of the Senate Rs and fell and was in the background all year.
Ed reform. George Scarola is a huge loss.
[Editor's note: Sen. Baumgartner is one of the legislators we asked to weigh in, but we haven't heard back. Perhaps when he reads this take, he'll send something in.]
Senate majority leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) ... "somewhat irrelevant" ?
Senate D's, who proved to be hapless and somewhat irrelevant. Good luck maintaining your so-called majority this fall.
K-12 students stuck in overcrowded classrooms, thanks to the elimination of I728 funding for smaller class sizes.
Transparency: After a 60-day regular session and a 30-day special session, lawmakers negotiated a budget, pensions cuts, K-12 health care and other bills in the dead of night, behind closed doors, with no opportunity for public involvement. Legislators themselves didn't even have time to read these bills before they voted on them.
Nick Hanauer, whose demands for charter schools failed.
For the first time in several years, K-12 and higher education funding were NOT cut. In the current context, not getting cut counts as a victory. (thanks to House D's and Sen. Ed Murray.)
Senate Republicans, who with the help of Road Killers, dictated the agenda in Olympia despite being in the minority.
IMHO, Big Winner: Bipartisanship.
It was a rocky road, ups and downs along the way, but the final votes on the reform bills and the budget showed that we could pass bills with bipartisan support, most votes coming from the middle of the aisle. Hard core conservatives were convinced that we didn’t do enough; hard core liberals were convinced that we were shredding the political compact with our constituents (especially teachers and state employees). I couldn’t be happier with the philosophical outcome, although I have my share of quibbles with things that were left undone, exemptions left unclosed, items either over-appropriated or under-appropriated.
Although our ability to bring pressure in the House was limited, both Republican and Democratic Senate moderates (Tom, Kastama, Hobbs, Fain, Litzow, Hill, Pflug) held firm for a balanced outcome. I would note that every one of those Senate moderates comes from suburban Puget Sound districts, neither red nor blue, but sort of purple. [pullquote]Ask Rep. Chopp or Sen. Brown if they would have imagined this session would end with the passage of ANY law having to do with how budgets are balanced. Or maybe ask Mary Lindquist if the WEA would have imagined Rep. Chopp and a bunch of other Ds would vote for ANY bill related to its iron grip on K-12 healthcare coverage.[/pullquote]
If you decide to sell your bike, and you’d be happy to get $200 for it, do you advertise it for $200? Or do you ask $300, knowing you’ll take $200 and anything over that is a bonus?
In that same way, when you’re negotiating reforms, do you put all your cards on the table right off, or do you begin negotiating from a position that gives you room to move toward what you’re willing to accept?
Until the bipartisan Senate coalition came along no one was talking seriously about how changing the way budgets are balanced might reduce the chance of perennial budget deficits, or about the disparity between what many K-12 employees pay for health care coverage and what their general-government brethren pay. Pension reform was more on the radar screen, thanks to Sen. Zarelli’s previous proposals, but there was no apparent movement in that direction either.
Instead of asking whether the reforms that were adopted were watered down, maybe ask Rep. Chopp or Sen. Brown if they would have imagined this session would end with the passage of ANY law having to do with how budgets are balanced. Or maybe ask Mary Lindquist if the WEA would have imagined Rep. Chopp and a bunch of other Ds would vote for ANY bill related to its iron grip on K-12 healthcare coverage. Or maybe ask Greg Devereux of the Federation if he would have imagined ANY change would be made in the pension system this session, even if it doesn’t affect current employees one iota.
By the way, it was never a “state takeover” of K-12 health care, although that made for a convenient sound bite.
So yes, the reforms ended up in a different place than where they started. But don’t say that like it’s a bad thing. The Senate coalition accomplished things no one (except its members) would have imagined a month and a half ago.
Education was a big winner. This was surprising given where we started, but absolutely the right thing to do.
Sens. Murray and Zarelli – Sometimes you need a foil to bring out your best qualities, and this year they both got what they wanted. Ed completed his 17-year quest for marriage equality. The operating budget he proposed Feb. 28 is pretty much the one passed on April 11. Joe asserted himself as probably the most important Republican in Olympia after Rob McKenna, and was bathed in good editorials for a full month.
Frank Chopp – How many times do we need an object lesson in who gets things done for Democrats and liberals? Zarelli never contemplated how to deal with the speaker, and ultimately, it was only the governor who managed to get the Senate Rs to see they would never get everything they wanted out of Frank.
Pat Sullivan and Jim Moeller – Speaking of the speaker, these two shone as more-than capable lieutenants with plenty of (yes) chops.
Derek Kilmer – First open congressional seat in his area since he was a kid, and he’s not only way out front, but being introduced to a wider audience in the best possible light. Not a speck of mud on him.
Gregoire – Sure, her super power as a negotiator was exactly what the state needed. But she wanted a legacy like marriage equality, not the weirdest special session in a generation. She wanted to raise revenue for education. She wanted, in short, to go back to making progress and big deals like she did in her first term. Instead, she got to herd irate cats to the finish line. Could have been worse, but when it’s your last hurrah, you hope the most.
The Legislature – if the public was in a bad mood and distrustful of politics and government in September, then where are they now? Nobody wants to look like Congress, but the comparisons to last summer’s debt ceiling debate are too numerous to list.