Hargrove elected chairman of powerful Ways & Means Committee

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Jim Hargrove was named chairman of the Senate’s powerful, budget-writing Ways & Means Committee this morning by his peers in the Democratic Caucus.

But Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, is the first to admit it’s a role that may not stick, as conservative members of his own party are angling for a power share agreement with Senate Republicans.

“I’m definitely skating on thin ice here,” Hargrove said.

For 2013, the Democrats are expected to have a 26-23 advantage in the state Senate. There’s one race that is still too close to call in the Vancouver area and is likely heading to a recount, but Republican state Sen. Don Benton is ahead by less than 100 votes. If he holds on, control in the Senate will hinge on the support of conservative Democrats Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, and Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue.

Sheldon said he thinks there ought to be some co-chairmanship roles between Republicans and Democrats and more bipartisan cooperation.

“We’re waiting for the Republicans to coalesce,” Sheldon said Tuesday. “They’ll have their organizational meeting on Wednesday and then we’ll see what happens from there. A power-sharing agreement is what’s going to get us through this tough time and that’s what I think will happen.”

Sheldon said he supports Hargrove’s role as budget chairman.

“He approaches everything in a bi-partisan way and is very inclusive and that’s what we need right now,” Sheldon said.

New Senate Majority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, sent a letter to Republicans last week hoping to “negotiate a clear administrative process going forward.”

“Recent Senate history has shown how a shared responsibility can produce positive results, such as the constitutional rainy day fund, changes to our workers’ compensation system and the additional important reforms adopted just this year,” Murray wrote.

Part of the power-sharing agreement may install Sheldon as president pro-tem of the Senate. On Tuesday, the Democrats supported that move. The Republicans would also need to support Sheldon in that role. The president pro-tem presides over the Senate when the lieutenant governor is unavailable.

Hargrove said that Murray approached him to take over the Ways & Means Committee, a role Murray held until becoming majority leader following the retirement of former Senate majority leader Lisa Brown.

“This is not a role I sought out,” Hargrove said. “I did not campaign for it. I was asked to do it. … I’ve got a record of getting things done, working with Republicans and yet I have credibility with my caucus, too.”

The state Senate is likely the only place Republicans will have a greater voice next year. Democrats control the state House by a large margin, have won the governor’s mansion and will control all but the Secretary of State’s Office.