Morning Fizz

Conservative Democrats May Give GOP the Votes to Block Newly Elected Democrat Nick Harper

By Morning Fizz January 7, 2011

1. A major story is brewing as the legislative session gets set to start in Olympia on Monday. Fizz hears that several conservative Democrats—Jim Kastama (D-25, Puyallup), Brian Hatfield (D-19, Raymond), Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano), Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), and Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch)—may vote against seating newly elected Democrat Nick Harper. With the Democrats holding a slim 27-22 majority, just three of those Democrats would be enough to help the Republicans, who have threatened not to confirm Harper, get the votes they need.

Liberal Harper beat incumbent Democrat Sen. Jean Berkey (D-38, Everett) in the primary in August and went on to win the general against nominal competition in the blue district from Republican Rod Rieger in November. However, Harper's victory was aided by the now infamous Potemkin independent political committee set up by Democratic consulting firm Moxie Media which is being sued in Thurston County Superior Court by Attorney General Rob McKenna after an investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission found that Moxie had concealed the committee's donors (unions and trial lawyers), a violation of public disclosure laws. There is no allegation that Harper himself was involved in the chicanery. Moxie was running an independent expenditure campaign.

Nick Harper

While not seating Harper would be a big story in its own right, there's an even larger story here that could emerge as the signature of the session: In order to peel away the conservative Democrats from voting to upend Harper's confirmation, Democratic leadership may have to make promises to any or all of the conservative Democrats on other big issues. With their narrow majority, Democratic leadership may be in hock to the conservative bloc of senate Democrats all session.

2. Side note: Majority leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) sent a letter to Republican minority leader Sen. Mike Hewitt on Tuesday asking the Republicans not to block Harper from taking his seat. Sen. Brown notes that there were also some alleged election shenanigans on the Republican side that the PDC is currently investigating: A conservative political committee, Americans for Prosperity Washington, did hit pieces on several Democrats without disclosing its donors (or even registering with the PDC). A couple ended up losing in November—such as Sen. Eric Oemig (D-45, Kirkland), who lost to Republican challenger Andy Hill.

Calling the move not to seat Harper "transparently political," Brown points out that the Democrats aren't trying to block Hill.

The PDC investigation into Americans for Prosperity Washington hasn't risen to the level of a lawsuit yet. The PDC tells PubliCola they're still working on the investigation.

3. At last night's 48th District legislative forum at Bellevue City Hall, newly appointed Ways and Means Chair Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina), Rep. Deb Eddy (D-48, Kirkland), and State Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Bellevue) all backed Governor Gregoire's recent proposal to consolidate K-12 education, higher ed, and various ed commissions under her ultimate control. The legislators, speaking to a dozen or so constituents in a mostly empty city hall chamber, praised her proposal to create an appointed secretary of education.  Pointing out that voters have no recourse to hold the state system accountable, Tom said, "we can't hold the governor responsible when she doesn't have the authority to enact change."

And Rep. Hunter equated some $35 million in annual savings gained through the elimination of K-12 oversight boards to getting  2,200 kids going to community colleges.

Now the house's key budget writer, Rep. Hunter also spoke in favor of Gregoire's plan to suspend automatic cost-of-living-increases for public employee retirees—a move he said could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

But education was the topic of the night. On funding higher education in the next biennium, Rep. Hunter called for "a radical shift" and complained, "we have the most regressive tax system in the nation, so why don't we have a progressive tuition system?" Hunter said a new funding model was required to expand access and fill a statewide "skills gap."

When asked about the University of Washington's future funding, Hunter said "UW gets a cut when put up against cutting support for foster care families," opting to cut the former first. Representatives Eddy and Hunter both said voters sent more Democrats back to Olympia than expected, but tied their hands in the process by repealing taxes on soda and candy and passing Tim Eyman's 1053 requirement for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

As a result, Ross soberly stated, voters are "likely to see some unattractive stuff" in the coming months.

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