Democrats are licking their wounds this week, lamenting that Republicans strengthened their hold on the state senate; after Tuesday the numbers went from a 26-23 GOP advantage where two dissident Democrats caucused with the 24 member GOP to now, a full-fledged GOP advantage (25 Republicans in the senate) for a 26-23 advantage with one dissident Democrat on board with the GOP.
One of last session's black sheep Democrats, Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), retired and his seat went to Democrat state Rep. Cyrus Habib (D-48, Bellevue). But the Democrats were not able to take advantage of that pickup because they lost in five targeted races including the race against the other dissident Democrat, Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch), which allows the Republicans to continue to call themselves the Majority Coalition Caucus, giving them a veneer of bipartisanship.
However, the Democrats may soon be hurting in the house too.
The good news for Democratic voters—the big win on gun control—actually highlights exactly why things could go south for the house Democrats.
The Democrats closed the 2014 session in July with a 55-43 advantage. But with two seats looking like goners for the Democrats—Rep. Monica Stonier (D-17, Vancouver) is down 51.26--48.71 to Republican Lynda Wilson and Rep. Dawn Morrell (D-25, Puyallup) is down 53.85--46.15 to Republican Melanie Stambaugh—and today's news that two (and maybe three) house races are headed to a recount, could put the Democrats anywhere from 52-46 to 50-48.
Given the recent lesson in the "Democratic" senate, where conservative Democrats swung the balance to the Republicans, first informally with the Roadkill Caucus, and then officially with the Majority Coalition Caucus—a four vote difference or so in the house isn't as secure as it appears.
The races on their way to recounts all involve seats that are currently Democratic, which only jeopardizes the Democrat's position more in the next few days. The races (and I've bolded who's currently leading) are: Democrat Christine Kilduff vs. Republican Paul Wagemann in the 28th Legislative District for an open seat that has been in the Democratic column and state Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-35, Shelton) vs. Republican challenger Dan Griffey.
A third race sliding toward a recount is: Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-26, Gig Harbor) vs. Republican challenger Michelle Caldier (Caldier is leading by 232 votes).
Ironically, the good news for Democratic voters—the big win on gun control—actually highlights exactly why things could go south for the house Democrats. I-594, the universal background check measure, was on the ballot precisely because the Democrats in the house blocked the idea two years ago.
In other words, there's a strong "Blue Dog" strain in the house Democratic caucus. Reps. Brian Blake (D-19, Aberdeen), Dean Takko (D-19, Longview), and Rep. Chris Hurst (D-31, Rural Pierce County), all re-elected handily this week, are among a solid bloc of Democrats that could throw speaker of the house Rep. Frank Chopp's (D-43, Wallingford) machine askew. All of these Democrats were possible 'No' votes on the gun control bill, stalling it in caucus. And Rep. Hurst voted 'No' on gay marriage in 2012. In 2011, Hurst and Takko defied the Democratic caucus on workers' comp.
There is a key difference between the history in the senate and the history in house that could save Chopp's hold on the caucus, though. Unlike disgruntled senators such as former Sen. Rodney Tom (who clashed with Democratic leaders Sens. Lisa Brown and Ed Murray and so, went on to help capsize the Democrats after he was booted from the Democrats budget talks, Reps. Blake, Hurst, and Takko are all committee chairs in the Chopp regime. Rep. Blake chairs the agriculture committee, Hurst chairs the government accountability committee, and Takko chair the local government committee.