OLYMPIA — The state House Republican Caucus has removed Rep. Mike Hope from the Judiciary Committee, a move some Democrats say was retaliation for the moderate member joining with them last year to support universal background checks for gun sales.
Hope, a former Seattle police officer from Lake Stevens, was replaced on the committee by the more conservative Larry Haler, a Hanford contractor from Richland.
The change, which was made at the beginning of this year’s legislative session, likely doomed the prospects of several bills establishing more gun restrictions — including the chances of Initiative 594 being approved in the Legislature instead of going to the November ballot.
The initiative, which would expand background checks to cover all gun sales, is similar to a bill that moved through the committee last year on a 7-6 vote, with Hope voting yes and moderate Tacoma Democrat Steve Kirby voting no.
The bill eventually failed, leading to the initiative that is going first to lawmakers and then, if it does not win approval there, to the voters.
Besides Hope’s removal, the only change on the committee this year is that two members moved to the state Senate and were replaced by the members who were appointed to replace them in the House.
Because it is rare for members to switch committees in the middle of a two-year term, some say the move shows how far caucuses in Olympia can go to ensure loyalty.
House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen disputed that notion, saying he made the change because Hope is not seeking re-election this year and the committee would benefit from a more permanent presence.
“We knew these were issues that are going to come up for years, and we want people that can be there for that,” said Kristiansen, R-Snohomish.
Hope himself also said he did not feel the move was made out of retaliation.
But Jamie Pedersen, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee last year before moving to the state Senate this year, said he has heard from several Republicans that it was retaliation.
“That’s my understanding, yes,” said Pedersen, D-Seattle, who described the switch as “unusual.”
The current committee chairwoman, Tacoma Democrat Laurie Jinkins, declined to speculate.
“I’ve heard the same rumors,” she said. “But honestly, I have no idea how those decisions are made. I barely understand how the Democrats make those decisions.”
Jinkins acknowledged that “Mike not being on the committee makes it harder” for Democrats to pass universal background checks or other measures related to gun restrictions.
But she said she has chosen not to hold a vote on Initiative 594, not because she doesn’t think it could pass her committee but because she doesn’t think it could pass the overall divided Legislature.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal