Democrat Manka Dhingra’s election to the Legislature’s 45th District in King County means Democrats will have slim majorities in the Senate and House, in addition to having a Democrat in the governor’s office. Washington joins Oregon and California as states with Democrats in sole control of legislative and executive branches.
Tina Podlodowski, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, told KUOW (94.9 FM) that Dhingra’s win “means California, Oregon, all of us together can pass statewide policies that are against the Trump agenda.”
Democrats may relish the win as a rebuke of President Trump and his policies, but their control of the Legislature could be short-lived if their focus isn’t kept on this Washington and the desire of the public to see completion of work — reached through bipartisanship — on a list of issues in the state.
Shared control of the bicameral Legislature has prevented either party from running up the score with its own agenda and has forced some compromises and even notable successes, including this year’s passage of a paid family-leave act, one of the first of its kind in the nation.
But that divided government also has been responsible for extended sessions in recent years, including this year’s record three-overtime 193-day scrum. Even with that extra time, while lawmakers produced a long-awaited funding scheme for K-12 education, the solution falls short of success in the opinion of many school districts and the state Supreme Court.
The Legislature, again because of that divided government, also failed to adopt a $4 billion capital budget, the spending plan that outlines public construction projects that are important to every community in the state, and this year also would have funded $1 billion in desperately needed school construction. The capital budget usually is as close to a sure bet as state government can wager, but this year, Senate Republicans held up approval unless House Democrats agreed to a “fix” of the Hirst decision, a Supreme Court case regarding water rights.
The stalemate left state construction projects on hold, wasting a summer’s worth of construction — and provided a near guarantee of higher construction costs once the budget is approved — and offered no relief for property owners who are facing a virtual stop-work order on home construction in rural areas without the ability to drill wells to serve homes.
With Democrats now in control of House and Senate, the logical choice for the first two items on the to-do list should be the capital budget and the Hirst issue, and it’s the Democrats’ first opportunity to demonstrate some fairness and show they can work collaboratively with Republicans, even when they have the majority.
Passing the capital budget should be the first order of business either in a special session this year or early next year in what’s supposed to be a short 60-day session. With that done, Democrats in House and Senate need to work earnestly to find a resolution on Hirst.
Democrats also are likely to bring forward other legislation that has been blocked in the Senate, including gun control measures, such as safe-storage legislation proposed repeatedly by Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline; environmental protections for the Salish Sea; requirements that employers’ health insurance plans cover birth control; campaign finance reform; and Gov. Inslee’s push for a carbon tax.
But none of it should — and in the case of bonds for the capital budget, can — be accomplished without buy-in from some Republicans.
Dhingra acknowledged in a story last week in The New York Times that to maintain control for more than the next year, Democrats will have to avoid mirroring California’s legislative monopoly and instead prove themselves responsible.
Voters have shown they’re comfortable with change — and just as comfortable with changing things back.