One of my favorite comments from House D’s of the day came from the Cruella De Vil-like majority leader, Lynn Kessler (D-Hoquiam). Kessler has touted two contradictory messages throughout this year’s session, that it is the majority’s “right to to rule” and that “bipartisan” support is expected. In the Sunday Times Kessler said of the failed vote:
"That's not a bipartisan vote," House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said furiously.
Kessler said business leaders needed to step up the pressure on Republicans. "The business community promised us we would get a bipartisan vote," Kessler said. "This didn't turn out to be even close."
Kessler pitched a fit that Republicans wouldn’t join her caucus like she wanted. To her the majority party should rule and the minority should follow, even while not including the Republicans in key discussions.
Yesterday’s floor action on transportation was one of the most glorious political events of the session. Let me break this down for you. House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) originally said he would not bring the Transportation budget up for a vote unless he had at least 18 Republicans voting for it. When the bill finally came to a vote, he got only eight.
Anytime there is a controversial vote, or one that can potentially limit Democratic wins come election time, the Speaker has allowed his more vulnerable members to vote against it. Chopp and his Democrats needed bipartisan support for the bill so they could share the blame in the ‘06 Elections. While some GOP members caved, it wasn’t enough to pass the bill.
The Transportation package is not entirely about transportation. It is about elections. Every Republican vote in favor of the bill is a vote that lets a vulnerable Democrat off the hook. Why would Republicans want to cave to Kessler’s strategy at all? To me, this is the Democratic arrogance of power. The Democratic Caucus has all but expected their Republican counterparts to help them out. They have run amok with their rule and grown blind to opposition until it foils their plans.
Deputy Republican Leader Mike Armstrong (R-Wenatchee) is the possessor of my other favorite quote of the day. He said, "We've heard that it's the right of the majority to rule. Well, rule." Armstrong is a very big man. Naturally, when he speaks he commands authority.
Many times he has walked past my desk towards my boss’s office. According to him, my job is to “block” him from just waltzing in “without an appointment.” Armstrong doesn’t need an appointment since my boss works for him, and there is no way in hell I would try to block him anyway – but this is the presumption in the joke. Metaphorically, he conveyed the same message yesterday to Democratic Leadership. They are not going to block his caucus on this one.
A transportation budget of their own doing
Many arguments made for this budget concern safety issues. The Alaska Way viaduct is aged, fragile, and falling apart. The same goes for the 520 Bridge. Democrats insist that a 9.5 cent gas tax is needed to predominantly Seattle-based projects. While Republicans agree that these projects are needed, don’t be fooled into buying liberal arguments that this tax is needed now.
First of all, the earliest construction can begin on these bridges is 2010 – with or without funding today. That’s two bienniums away. We don’t have to fund it this year when gas prices are higher than ever. And we don’t need to do it with an almost 10 cent per gallon tax increase.
Secondly, unlike the operating budget, the transportation budget does not have to be passed by the end of business today. Realistically it can wait another session; but the Democrats do not want to revert to that option because voting on a tax increase in an election year is always a political faux pas.
Republican Leader Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) has made it clear to Democrats; we will help you but you need to invite us to the table:
“Their insistence on bipartisan votes is confusing since they have not once come and asked for our help on the operating budget. In fact they passed a bill on near party-line vote last week that allows them to raise taxes for the operating budget without a simple majority instead of a two-thirds majority,” said Chandler. “They said the ‘majority needs to be able to rule.’ Apparently that doesn’t apply to transportation.
“Now they’ve tied the operating budget to the transportation plan, so our response is simple: Let’s balance the operating budget without a tax increase and we’ll work with them on the transportation funding plan,” Chandler said. “The Democrat operating budget proposal is unsustainable. It spends beyond our means, requiring tax increases and leading to future budget deficits. Unless we demonstrate that the state is using the taxpayers’ money wisely, they can’t make a case for higher taxes.”
Until then, it looks like Chopp and Kessler will have to let their party take the hit. Everyone involved is still not sure what will happen next in the last hours of the session. One thing is clear though, the Democrats are not as in control as they thought.