Washington State Senate Majority In Flux As Trump Administration Plucks Talent

Washington State Senate Majority In Flux As Trump Administration Plucks Talent
It will be difficult for the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus to bring legislation to the floor of the Washington State Senate, until one new vacancy is filled. The presence of another coalition member is also at risk, and his absence could make passage of some GOP-led bills uncertain even after the vacancy is filled, given the MCC's slim one-vote majority. In each case, the Senators are serving the Trump administration in Washington, D.C., one permanently, one temporarily. Photo: homeport northwest.com.

The Trump-induced brain drain is making things tricky for the Republican-led majority controlling the Washington State Senate, in a year when fiscal conservative principles will be crucial to pitched battles on K-12 funding; and a slew of new or increased taxes proposed by Governor Jay Insee and likely to be backed by the House Democratic majority.

Today, GOP staff in Olympia announced that State Sen. Brian Dansel (R-7) has resigned, effective immediately, to become a Special Assistant to the new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue. His replacement will be chosen by 7th District Republicans. Statehouse sources say that could happen within two weeks if it is one of the district’s two State Representatives, House GOP Caucus Chair Shelly Short, or Joel Kretz.

A Slim Majority That’s Down One, for Now

However, in the meantime, the slim Senate Majority Coalition (MCC) of 25-24 is down one, and won’t be able to advance any measures on the Senate Floor that lack broad bipartisan support.

The tie-breaker vote in the Senate is newly-elected Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib, himself a former Senator, and Democrat.

Irresistible Opportunity For Ericksen

The MCC’s predicament is complicated further by the Trump administration’s selection of State Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42) to temporarily serve on a reform-minded “beach-head” team.

Its mission is to dramatically re-think the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Trump has made clear his intent to dismantle the interventionist EPA policies of previous administrations, particularly that of his predecessor Barack Obama.

The temporary post could lead to a permanent appointment for Ericksen as head of EPA’s Region 10, covering the Northwest, and based in Seattle. This would almost certainly result in his resignation from the State Senate, and also require a replacement to be selected.

Ericksen is currently the chair of the Senate’s Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, and has long challenged constraints imposed by the state and federal governments on fossil fuel refining and shipping facilities operating in his district.

Big Environmental Agenda In Olympia

Ericksen has also taken issue with conventional framing of climate change risks. All of which makes his role with Trump’s administration irresistible, even if his absence would be felt around a robust legislative agenda, on environment.

That agenda already includes a carbon tax championed by Inslee, and a proposal by the Governor to add surcharges to the Hazardous Substances Tax, to restore raided funds from the now-sprawling Model Toxics Control Act program.

Meanwhile, Dansel said accepting the offer for the USDA slot was tough, but gives him a chance to push for priorities core to his constituents in the 7th.

“It has been the honor of my life to serve as your senator, and this decision was not an easy one for me. Words cannot express the gratitude my family and I feel toward the citizens of this district, and I didn’t take the decision lightly.”

Dansel’s Agenda: Wildfire Controls, Mining Restoration

Dansel added, “It is no secret that I think we could be moving more timber off the forests, while putting people back to work and reducing our susceptibility to wildfires. I think we also need to reform regulations that have prevented mining companies from exploratory drilling, rendering the mining industry nearly obsolete, when it has been an iconic industry in Northeast Washington for many decades.”

According to the Senate GOP statement, “Republican precinct committee officers in the 7th District are now charged with the task of presenting commissioners from the counties that comprise the district – Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille and Spokane – with three candidates to replace Dansel. The commissioners of the five counties will then pick from among the three candidates; the person appointed will serve until the next general election, when district voters will choose someone to serve the year remaining in the Senate term.”

45th Is One Special Election To Watch

The 7th is the most Republican district in the state, but the 42nd is not considered safe for the GOP. Additional GOP members of the State Senate could be selected by the Trump administration, resulting in more vacancies and special elections.

For now, it’s safe to say that all eyes will be on the 45th District in suburban King County. There in a special election this fall, and a regularly scheduled election in 2018, the MCC must retain the seat now held temporarily by former gubernatorial candidate and state senator Dino Rossi.

Rossi will not be seeking the post in either contest. He was selected to replace the late Senator Andy Hill, who served as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and was the MCC’s go-to state budget expert, and negotiator.

Schoesler: We’ll Manage

Dansel’s sudden departure prompted a statement from Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-9), that the ship of state will keep sailing smoothly, for the Senate majority.

“While we are sorry to lose Sen. Dansel, we are proud of him for earning a position with the Trump Administration alongside the Secretary of Agriculture. The 7th Legislative District which Sen. Dansel represents is heavily affected by agriculture policies so we know it’s a policy area that he cares deeply about. It’s good to see Washington state getting a seat at the table in the new administration.”

He added, “I’m confident that our caucus will remain strong and this should have no effect on the Senate’s ability to pass an education funding plan or a budget.”

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