Legislative upheaval upsets Hargrove’s plans

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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With his 28 years in the state Legislature and a solid general election victory behind him, 24th District State Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam was all set to chair the powerful budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee.

But being one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate and the Legislature’s longest-serving member may not be enough.

A coalition of 23 Republicans, joined by Democrats Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, upended the well-laid plans of what had been the Senate’s Democratic majority in take-it-or-leave-it fashion, Hargrove said last week.

The Majority Coalition Caucus created by the party crossover gave Republicans the chairmanships of the Ways and Means, Commerce and Labor, Early Learning and K-12 Education, Government Operations, Law and Justice and Health Care committees.

Democrats will appoint chairs of the Natural Resources and Parks, Agriculture and Water, Trade and Economic Development, Financial Institutions and Insurance, Environment and Marine Waters, and Higher Education committees.

The Human Services and Corrections, Energy and Telecommunications and Transportation committees will be co-chaired by both parties.

The committees will be formalized when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“If there’s anything I’m disappointed in, it’s that we weren’t able to negotiate out how things were going to change,” Hargrove said.

“When the Democrats thought they had the majority, we put together a planning committee and offered to meet with the other caucus and say, ‘let’s talk about this’ — anything we could do to work better.

“What we were given back,” Hargrove said, “is a take-it-or-leave-it proposal.”

“This is an unusual situation, different than any of my other 28 years.”

Sheldon and Tom could not be reached Monday for comment.

Hargrove, along with Reps. Kevin Van De Wege and Steve Tharinger, both Sequim Democrats, represents a district that covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

In the 2012 legislative session Hargrove, a professional forester, chaired the Human Services and Corrections Committee and was a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters committee.

Hargrove said Sen. Lisa Brown of Spokane, the Democratic majority leader, had asked him to put his name up for Ways and Means Committee chair.

She did not run for re-election.

The Democratic caucus recommended him for the chairmanship.

“I was basically drafted into it,” Hargrove said.

Tom has been chosen Senate majority leader and Sheldon president pro tempore.

Sheldon will preside over the Senate in the absence of the lieutenant governor.

It was unusual that Sheldon and Tom took leadership positions, Hargrove said.

“Typically, people switching parties haven’t chosen leadership positions, they’ve chosen to be involved in committee work,” Hargrove said.

The Democrats will choose their committee chairs after the 2013 session starts on Jan. 14.

“We have to see what the new lay of the land is after they come out with rule changes,” he said.

“We don’t have the 25 votes to be in the majority.”

Hargrove said he expects to continue working on budget, human services, natural resources and corrections issues.

“I still want to be on committees related to those things,” he said.

The recent legislative upheaval has created a situation that is “a little fluid, is the best way to say it,” Hargrove added.

If he ends up working on budget issues, Hargrove’s spending choices will be limited by collective bargaining agreements, court-dictated levels for education spending that don’t pinpoint where the money will come from and the required two-thirds legislative majority, or the popular majority of voters, necessary for tax increases.

“That is a high bar,” he said.

“We are in a little bit of flux right now with this change,” he added.

“I’m hoping things will settle down with us working together soon after the session starts.”

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 25. 2012 4:57PM
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