Before the newspaper editorial boards cum all over themselves with orgasmic joy at the prospect of bipartisanship in Olympia, lets just be clear that this "bipartisan majority coalition caucus" the Senate Republicans announced yesterday is total bullshit. There's nothing bipartisan about it. And it's unlikely to play out according to the Republican script.
"At this point nobody has agreed to accept it," deposed Senate majority leader Ed Murray told me this morning about his fellow Democratic senators. Republicans have offered Democrats control of six minor committees, while retaining the most powerful committees for themselves. But to accept this unilateral committee structure would simply serve to reinforce the fiction of bipartisanship, making the Democratic caucus the Washington Generals of state politics.
So would the Dems really turn down these table scraps, leaving Republicans in complete control of the Senate?
"Personally, I think our members would have more influence in a 24-member minority," says Murray, whose experience with power-sharing in the House has left him deeply skeptical of such arrangements. "We want the Senate to be a functional body," Murray says. "Parliamentary bodies work best when somebody is in control, and when the minority has the leverage to influence the majority."
Even when that "somebody" is a Republican? "I don’t want to belong to a body that can’t govern," insists Murray.
And that's exactly what we're about to get. The irony is that as "majority" leader, Tom now leads a majority of two. That may be enough to swing control of the Senate from D to R, but it's not enough to make Tom an actual leader. Republicans may be glad to have the committee chairs that come with Tom's defection, but that doesn't mean he's earned their respect. And having now douched both parties, his lack of loyalty leaves Tom with neither the trust nor the moral authority necessary to persuade caucus members to cast difficult votes.
Wielding power is often much more difficult than seizing it.
"We're going to have unstable majorities for some time to come," warns Murray, "and we need to assure that the majority can govern." Well, you can't get much less stable than the fictional majority that Tom, Sheldon, and the Republican caucus have fabricated.
Murray says he's willing to continue to negotiate, but he doesn't sound hopeful of achieving a functional power-sharing agreement. So for all the Republican talk about bipartisanship, it's just that: Talk. Republicans now control the state Senate. And that makes Tom and Sheldon Republicans. Something I think a lot of Democratic voters will remember when the two are up for reelection in 2014.