The apparent go-to move in Olympia for both the Democrats and the Republicans this session? Shoot yourself in the foot.
The GOP's biggest play of the session last Friday, for example, to fire governor Jay Inlsee's secretary of transportation Lynn Peterson, ultimately robbed the Republicans of the ability to move their larger accountability agenda forward this session. They actually had Democrats edging in their direction on the I-405 tolling issue. But with the brute show of GOP force on Friday, the Republicans jeopardized any Democratic desire to work collegially on any substantive issues at hand.
As for the Democrats, they keep saying they want to get policy bills passed in the senate. But the Democratic strategy boils down to this: pass stuff in the house and then sulk when the Republican senate ignores it. For example, a $181 million Democratic plan to help the homeless will likely die as the Democrats do little more than shake their fists at Republicans without any tactical horse trading in play.
In general, the Democrats have a policy to-do list that they're undermining with their own political incompetence, while the GOP has an accountability agenda that they're undermining with their own tactless bravado.
House and senate Democrats have a list of policy bills they want to pass this session, including: a bill to map out how the legislature will accomplish all of the Supreme Court mandated education fix-it work in 2017, a multi-faceted bill to tackle numerous cultural hurdles faced by the state’s students of color, a bill to eliminate tuition for community college students, a couple of bills to expand the voting clout of people of color, and a bill to pluck about $181 million from the state’s rainy day fund to apply to homeless programs.
All these bills look admirable. But the Democrats have offered no real-world reasons to the senate Republicans to pass them. No actual plans to get them through the GOP-dominated senate. No offers to pass any stalled Republican bills as bargaining chips. For example, the house Democrats could have offered to pass two GOP teen-wage and training-wage bills in order to get the senate to pass the Democrats $12-an-hour minimum wage proposal. Nope.
Whenever Democratic leaders are asked how will they get a hostile GOP senate to pass their bills, they merely voice hopes that the Republicans will somehow see the light —publicly admitting they have no plans beyond hoping the Republicans will agree.
As for the GOP, their top priorities are hating on governor Jay Inslee and hating taxes—goals they can easily achieve without giving anything away to Democrats. This lets them skimp on the legislating while relying on the pontificating. The Republicans’ mantra is accountability, accountability, and accountability. Jay Inslee is a terrible manager, they say, and his appointees can’t cut it. It’s their duty, they shout, to play watchdog over the executive branch.
However, the senate Republicans lost their facade of purity on Friday, when, without notifying anyone in advance that her job was in danger, they suddenly fired Peterson after three years on the job. This looks like an election year stunt more than any substantive effort to help the agency oversee its work—including executing the $15 billion transportation package that the GOP themselves voted for just a year ago as they unanimously confirmed Peterson at the committee level.
The GOP did not have to make this vote an ambush on a Friday afternoon; the GOP-controlled transportation committee could have called Peterson in, hit her with a huge load of public questions, and then called on the senate to fire her. Everything would have been methodical and above board—and probably more convincing to the public.
But the GOP senators—despite being in the majority—are addicted to gratuitous, parliamentary maneuvers just for the sake of trumping the Democrats. In addition to the showy Peterson beheading, for example, the GOP has also started a redundant investigation of their own in to the department of corrections scandal—which looks like blatant electioneering—rather than letting the governor’s independent investigation run its course.
Consequently, when Inslee and the Democrats scream the GOP is guilty of electoral politics, it rings true, diminishing any legitimate gripes the GOP might have.
Also, the GOP senate caucus has a childlike tendency to gloat when they win.
This time Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-6, Spokane) led the gloating on Twitter. On Friday he tweeted. “Note to other Inslee appointees: Shape up, Do your job. Serve the people w accountability. Or more heads are going to roll.” On Monday, he tweeted: "Once again Jay Inslee demonstrates Gov too big a job for him. Should just focus on green stuff and let Republicans actually run important stuff.”
This destroys the GOP’s desire to look like sober critics of the executive branch, and gives the Democrats their best ammunition to argue that Friday’s vote was political.
The GOP's top agenda item since it took control of the senate in 2013 has been to fight all new taxes and keep all tax breaks intact—essentially, winningly ensuring nothing happens.
The problem with the GOP’s unwillingness to compromise is that it will eventually hurt their own interests. In fact, there’s already evidence that's happening.
For example, by refusing to negotiate on a Democratic proposal for a $12-an-hour statewide minimum wage last year and this year, the GOP’s business community constituents now face a $13.50-an-hour public referendum in November of which they have no control.
Also by refusing to consider any carbon emissions caps proposed by Inslee, the GOP now faces the governor sidestepping the Republicans by tackling this issue as a regulatory matter—with no guarantee of GOP input. And the GOP has to watch a public initiative on carbon taxes go to the voters in November—again with no business community input.
The bottom line is the Democrats have vision, but few political-infighting inclinations. And the Republicans have a flare for drama, but lack long-term vision.