The 2016 legislative session kicked off yesterday. As Shift reported, the bi-partisan state Legislature has plenty to deal with this session, from the McCleary decision and charter schools to the Democrats’ push for an income tax, the carbon tax wars, and the possible impeachment of Democrat Auditor Troy Kelley. With all these issues at the forefront, unless Democrats want to lose control of the House as well, they would do well to move away from their hyper-partisan, liberal leader, state House Speaker Frank Chopp.
Chopp has been Speaker of the House for the past 13 years. During his tenure, Chopp positioned himself as arguably the most powerful Democrat in our state. He also managed to push the state Democrat Party further to the left by recruiting candidates who identify with the “liberal theology of Seattle politics.”
Unfortunately for Democrats, Chopp’s out-of-touch recruitment of political candidates has inadvertently helped Republicans in their push to win more seats in the state House. Republican Teri Hickel’s victory last November over Democrat appointee Carol Gregory in the 30th Legislative District’s special election reduced the Democrats’ majority to 50-48, placing a GOP take over of the House well within reach in 2016. Republicans already control the Senate after winning an outright majority in 2014.
The reality is that Republicans have attracted more voters with an agenda focused on smaller government and small business. On the other hand, Democrats continue to focus on growing government and pleasing special interest donors—so much so that they willfully ignore voters’ wishes.
Democrats vulnerable in many districts
Undoubtedly, there are quite a few state House Democrats who are vulnerable in 2016. According to the statewide survey by Elway Research, “Sixty percent of voters said they want it to take a supermajority vote in the legislature to raise taxes. An even larger 65 percent said they want the legislature to send voters a constitutional amendment to implement the tax restriction policy if the state Supreme Court strikes down Initiative 1366.”
Chopp is likely to dash the expectations of the over 60% of voters who want lawmakers to make it more difficult to raise taxes. During his two-decade career, Chopp has shown little interest in respecting the voters’ will on this issue. In the past, he has prevented tax-limiting measures from coming to a vote. There is no reason to expect he’ll do anything different this time around.
The Washington Policy Center Jason Mercier has pointed out that “voters in 69% of Washington’s legislative districts (34 of 49) approved I-1366 (supermajority for taxes).” Of course, that fact raises the question: which Democrat House members would be at risk of having to vote against their own constituents’ vote on taxes?
As Shift reported, there are 20 Democrat House members who represent districts that supported I-1366 in 2015. Four of those districts have split representation in the House, one Republican and one Democrat—making those Democrats extra-tempting campaign targets for the GOP.
The Democrats representing these districts are ready squirming over the prospect of having to vote on I-1366/taxes this session. They include Christine Kilduff (28th District, in Pierce County), Chris Hurst (31st District, straddling King and Pierce County), Hans Dunshee (44th District in Snohomish County) and Democrat House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (47th District, King County).
If these Democrats have any sense of self-preservation, they should think about creating some distance between themselves and Chopp’s Seattle-style, extreme Left agenda.