OLYMPIA — Lt. Gov. Brad Owen says there has been “significant progress” in talks between Senate Democrats and a new Republican-majority caucus that is expected to take control of the Senate next month, and Democrats said Friday that they will be soon be relocating to the Senate side that is used by the minority party.
Jeff Reading, deputy chief of staff for Senate Democrats, said Friday that at a meeting in SeaTac convened by Owen, the “majority coalition” caucus comprised of 23 Republicans and two Democrats was recognized as the likely majority. As a result, there will be a change of offices on the Senate floor and in the wings before the legislative session begins on Jan. 14. And as the presumed leader of the majority caucus, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, will gain the Senate majority office.
Currently, Democrats are on the left hand side of the Senate, and Republicans on the right.
Last month, Senate Democrats elected Murray as their majority leader. But earlier this month, Tom and fellow Democrat, Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, announced they would work with Republicans under a newly formed caucus and that Tom would be the new majority leader.
Tom did not return a call seeking comment on Friday.
Democrats have a small majority in the Senate, controlling 26 of 49 seats. With the moves by Tom and Sheldon, the new caucus holds a 25-24 advantage.
Under the proposed plan by the caucus to be led by Tom, Republicans will chair six committees, including the panel that controls the state budget, while Democrats will control another six committees. The parties will split control of three other panels, though Sheldon is on two of those committees.
Democrats have not yet accepted that committee structure plan.
Last week, a series of letters were exchanged between Murray and Tom. Murray noted that in order to redefine a majority caucus, the new majority caucus will have to vote to change the permanent rules of the Senate and its governance structure when the legislative session begins next month, something Tom has said they will indeed do.
Owen convened the meeting to try and ease the transition.
“There was an incredible spirit of working together and working things out,” he said in a written statement issued Friday. “Significant progress was made. I am pleased with the outcome.”
Reading said that Friday’s meeting was a “cordial meeting” but that Senate Democrats still need to hold additional meetings on several issues surrounding the proposed transition.