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Senate Democrats hand power to minority GOP in Olympia

Democrats in the State Senate have effectively handed over partial control to minority Republicans. Two Democrats in the Washington state Senate abandoned their caucus Monday, vowing to work with Republicans to control the chamber and push conservative budgeting principles.

Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch have cut a deal to share committee leadership with the GOP.

“The public out there is hungry for us to come together, to work together in a collaborative manner and that’s exactly what this coalition is trying to accomplish,” said Tom of the bipartisan caucus.

Republicans will chair six committees, including the panel that controls the state budget. Democrats will control another six committees while the parties will co-chair three others when the Legislature convenes Jan. 14.

“This is not about power. This is not about control,” said Tom, who will rise to serve as the new majority leader. “This is about governing in a collaborative manner.”

Democrats have a small majority in the Senate, controlling 26 of 49 seats. With the moves by Tom and Sheldon, Republicans effectively hold a 25-24 advantage.

Along with sustainable budgets, the lawmakers said they want to promote job growth, reform the education system, and hold state government accountable.

Sen. Ed Murray, the Democratic leader in the chamber, said in a statement that he doesn’t believe the Republicans’ “take-it-or-leave-it plan” is the right way forward.

“We recognize that any majority in the Senate will be an unstable one, and we are committed to forming a mutually agreed-upon way for Republicans and Democrats to work together,” Murray said.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler said the new approach is the sort of cooperation the people of Washington and the country want to see.

“I look forward to showing you that the Senate can put politics aside and provide a responsible, bipartisan approach to the coming session,” Schoesler said.

“The committee structure put forth by the coalition caucus is a great way to bring more perspective and better geographical representation to the lawmaking process,” said Sheldon during an Olympia news conference.

“We’ll have great diversification and representation across the state and it also brings compromise and it finds common interest areas that we can all agree on,” said Sheldon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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