This week's Capitol Newsmaker of the Week is a bit of a mystery.
Or, to be more precise, this week's Capitol Newsmaker of the Week is obvious; it's the legislators who killed Rep. Jamie Pedersen's (D-43, Capitol Hill) legislation to require universal background checks for gun buyers. It's just that finding out who exactly killed the legislation is like catching two little kids standing over a broken vase, pointing fingers at each other.
First, I talked to Rep. Pedersen and asked him which Democrats defied the caucus, standing up to pressure from him and House Speaker Frank Chop (D-43, Wallingford), to defeat the priority bill.
"Where I would place the blame is on the House Republican caucus."—Rep. PedersenBut Pedersen turned the tables. "Where I would place the blame is on the House Republican caucus because they had a bunch -- probably five or six members -- who were open to it and whose districts, based on the polling that we had, were really supportive. And the Republican caucus came down on them like a ton of bricks. That's where we lost that bill." (To paraphrase: Why blame the diverse Democratic caucus for having six or seven pro-gun rights legislators, when the lockstep Republican caucus is so homogeneous, they can't even deliver a handful of votes for a compromise bill.)
Pedersen said it's no surprise and no fault of the rural Democrats -- like Reps. Bryan Blake (D-19, Longview), Kathy Haigh (D-35, Shelton) and Kevin Van de Wege (D-24, Sequim), to name a few on the list that gun control liberals are mad at right now -- who "never have and never will support something like this." He said Blake, in particular, is as pro-gun rights as any Republican in the House, and he never expected to get his vote. But it was the swing district House Republicans that surprised him.
"One of their [the majority caucus'] top priorities just epically failed," DeBolt said, and the Republican caucus is to blame? “It just shocked me.”
Pedersen said the House Republicans may have more power now than the Senate Democrats this session. “When House Republicans decide they really dislike something and are going to lock up on it, they send a really powerful signal to the Senate Republicans."
When I called Republican house minority leader Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-20, Chehalis) and told him what Pedersen said, he laughed. "One of their [the majority caucus'] top priorities just epically failed," he said, and the Republican caucus is to blame? “It just shocked me.”
He's flattered, but doesn't buy Pedersen's theory. "We actually discuss bills and we don't tell people how to vote. If it's not taxes or jobs, we don't have caucus positions," he said. "We can't just lock them down like they do over there," he added, referring to Chopp's legendary hold over his caucus (that clearly didn’t come through for this bill).
DeBolt said it was absurd to blame the failure of a top Democratic priority on his caucus. "They didn't just kill their highest priority, it killed a bunch of other stuff they were supposed to care about," that didn't get a vote before cut-off because there was so much focus on the gun bill.
So was this somehow a failing of Chopp? I talked to Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, Burien), hoping the Deputy Majority Whip could provide some insight. “We like to ascribe Frank with this all-controlling power, but I don't think that was the case in this particular bill,” he said, because members were voting with their districts and consciences.
As for pointing to fellow members who may have played a role, he would only say that there were “certain members that would not vote for it without a referendum clause and certain members who wouldn't vote for it with a referendum clause,” but declined to elaborate.
Other murmurs pointed me in the direction of Rep. Steve Kirby (D-29, South Tacoma). He voted against the bill in committee, and there was a lot of attention leading up to the vote as to whether he would support the bill on final passage. But When I told Kirby why I was calling, he laughed.
"How I ended up being seen as pivotal in this is a mystery to me," he said. He says he guaranteed Pedersen that the bill wouldn't fail in committee because of his vote – meaning if Rep. Mike Hope (R-44, Lake Stevens), the bill’s Republican co-sponsor, went sideways, Kirby promised to step in as a yes vote.
He says he wasn't part of any negotiations between the committee vote and the failure of the bill, but he knows he isn't the reason it failed. "In the official caucus vote count -- the one that's done that only Frank knows the results of -- yeah, I had agreed to vote for this bill."
He says the referendum clause was a deal breaker for some of his colleagues, which puzzles him. "All that bill was going to do was go over to the Senate and fail, I don't know why the referendum clause was an issue.”
This week's Capitol Newsmaker of the Week isn't taking credit for their newsmaking feat—stopping, in the wake of Newton, perhaps the biggest legislative proposal of the session.
This all left me going back to the phone, looking for comments. I called media flaks for a half dozen Democratic Representatives to no avail. Then I went back to my notes. Did Van de Wege, the House Majority Whip and a definite no vote, according to Pedersen, use his position to sway other House members? What about one theory that Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-47, Covington), the Democratic majority leader who "was not enthusiastic" about the bill (according to one source) jammed it up (a theory that several sources rejected)? Can DeBolt be trusted on his claim that the Republican caucus didn’t drop the hammer on the bill, particularly when the only member who supported it in the end was Hope?
This week's Capitol Newsmaker of the Week isn't taking credit for their newsmaking feat—stopping, in the wake of Newton, perhaps the biggest legislative proposal of the session. And let's not forget the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus on the senate side who bottled up state Sen. Adam Kline's (D-37, S. Seattle) background check bill, which he says had the votes.
For the session's previous Capitol Newsmakers of the Week start here. Not that we're keeping score, but the tally so far is four Democrats to five Republicans. (We didn't award a Newsmaker of the Week for Week six and this week, Week nine, was a tie.)