The Republican Coup was Justified. And Pretty Impressive.

By Josh Feit March 7, 2012

I don't like what they did, but how they did it was impressive—and exactly what legislators are supposed to do.

It won't come as a surprise that I liked state Sen. Ed Murray's (D-43, Seattle) budget better than the GOP budget that ranking ways and means Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield), passed on Friday night. I live in Seattle. Murray's my senator. I agree with his priorities.

Though for some context, you should know that PubliCola has a high opinion of Zarelli; we gave him last year's committee chair of the year award—over Murray—for his work as the ranking member on ways and means, and we've followed up this year, giving him the microphone throughout the session.

Perhaps more surprising: I don't have any problem with what Zarelli and the Republicans (aided by two Democrats and one "Democrat," Tim Sheldon, D-35, Potlatch) did on Friday night. Wake up, Democrats. It's the legislature. By definition, it involves ugly fights for votes and power. And the rules that govern the contest for power allow it. In this case, that rule is called the 9th Order.

I've dramatically characterized it as a "coup"—as did the Seattle Times—and let's be honest, coup is a pretty sexy word. No, the rules don't allow you to march in with AK-47s dressed in olive garb and berets and declare "Year Zero," but they do allow for the 9th Order—a coup of sorts, if you can pull it off. And the Republicans did. And I certainly credit to them for using the legislature as a place to maneuver, count votes, and move their agenda forward. Don't Democratic voters wish the Democrats would do the same?

(Literally, the "9th Order" is an order of business—the 6th Order, for example, is when you consider bills. The 9th Order is when you make a presentation of a motion—not to be confused with motions on other orders such as moving to adopt an amendment, which falls under the 6th Order. In this case, the 9th Order was used to make a motion to pull a bill on to the floor that had been stuck in committee against the wishes of the majority of senate members. For 25 members—22 Republicans and three Democrats—the 9th Order was the only option to get their budget heard because, despite their majority on the senate floor, they did not have the numbers in committee to move their budget out.)[pullquote]The Democrats need to stop whining. Friday night was what democracy looks like.[/pullquote]

For example, two key components of the Zarelli budget were bills that were stuck in committee: Sen. Jim Honeyford's (R-15, Sunnyside) bill to repeal I-728 and I-732 (the school funding and class size initiatives), and Zarelli's own pensions reform bill.

Democrats need to stop whining about lockstep agendas and start passing their own bills. Reverse the situation: Say the GOP was the majority party and the Democrats, who had rounded up votes to pass gay marriage on the floor, couldn't get get a hearing on it. Wouldn't it have been a righteous show of strength if they had used their 28-21 advantage on gay marriage (with the four Republicans they had) to force it onto the floor? Would that have been a betrayal of the public process and public trust? Hardly. It would have been cheered by Democrats as a bold move to end the obstructionism of a bigoted majority.

Yes,  it's true, I think Murray's budget is better public policy because it doesn't cut education and human services the way Zarelli's does. As we've reported, nonpartisan senate staff calculated that:

• Murray's budget held education harmless—and actually added $32 million to K-12. The Republicans would cut $43 million from K-12.

•The Murray budget added about $1.8 million to higher ed. Zarelli cuts about $29 million from higher ed.

•The Zarelli budget takes $57 million more from health care than the Democrats (including a pretty cold-hearted cut that wipes out the Disability Lifeline for the most vulnerable.)

•The Zarelli budget cuts $311 million out of other human service programs, $225 million more in cuts than the Democrats (including a devastating $200 million cut to the Temporary Assistance to Need Families, TANF, program.)

•The Zarelli budget cuts $85 million (as opposed to $17 million on the Democratic ledger) out of environmental programs.

•The Zarelli budget cuts state employee compensation by $183 million as opposed to the $94 million hit in the Democratic proposal.

But to flip the classic line—"It's not what you did, it's how you did it"—I'd say, while I have a problem with what the Republicans are proposing, I don't have any problem with how the Republicans went about doing it. What other choice did they have?

And hell, it wasn't even a surprise. More than 24 hours earlier, PubliCola as much as telegraphed what was coming. Headline: "Murray Budget in Hands of Conservative Democrats," in which we quoted Murray himself saying: “I’ve been told that the Republicans are attempting to pass a their own budget by going after Roadkill [conservative Democrats'] votes.”

And I don't buy the Democrats' complaint about the insufficient public process. The Democrats, by virtue of their technical majority, control the committees, and so control what gets a public hearing and what doesn't. The Republican reform bills, many of which ended up in the budget bill they passed, were rejected all session long. How were they supposed to get a public hearing?

Sure, Zarelli was negotiating with Murray all along and could have tried to work his ideas into the blueprint that Murray wanted to pass. But why let your opposition frame the debate when you've got the votes? And Zarelli had the votes.

And that's how democracy works. And last Friday night is what democracy looks like.
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