Washington is a state divided by more than mountains.
“We talk about a boat in eastern Washington, we’re talking about a row boat with a set of oars on it that we take fishing on the little lakes,” says Republican State Senator Bob Morton. “If you talk about a boat in western Washington, you’re talking about a yacht.”
Beyond wealth, Washington is also politically divided.
That’s the thesis of a Time Magazine article that outlines political maneuvering just getting underway in Olympia.
Here’s an excerpt:
When Washington Republican state senator Bob Morton went to Olympia in 1991, he had one goal: divide the state in two. The first time he sponsored a bill to that effect, he says the committee chair thought it was a joke. The chair scheduled a hearing, thinking the bill would be laughed off. “After two paragraphs of testimony, you could hear a pin drop,” Morton said. “It doesn’t take much more than a paragraph to realize we have a problem here.”
The problem Morton refers to is the stark divide between conservative east Washington and the liberal west. Morton, a Methodist minister, hails from the former, where Seattle is a dirty word. The district he represented for more than 20 years, before retiring in January, is tucked in the northeastern corner of the state—any further and it’d be in Idaho.
Morton never succeeded in creating two Washingtons, but his party has managed to split power in the state house. In an effort to give people outside of Seattle a larger voice, two Democrats joined Republicans in December to form a 25-24 majority coalition in the state senate.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, the state’s Republican leader, who represents a district that includes a series of small cities to the south and west of Spokane, says the coalition will focus on the budget, jobs and education. “We want to bring the state back to the basic priorities,” he said. “I think we should be looking at our business climate before we look at banning plastic bags.”
Sen. Rodney Tom, who represents parts of eastern King County and is one of the two Democrats to join the GOP coalition, says he hopes to restore balance.
“If you look at what had transpired when the Senate Democrats were running the show, 60-70 percent of the committee chairs were out of Seattle,” he tells Time Magazine. “How representative is that?”
The Senate coalition will still have to contend with the state’s House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats 55 to 43. But Washington’s new Senate coalition can live with that.
“We can’t do anything crazy and neither can they,” says Tom, who became majority leader this week. “It protects us from Democrats from Seattle getting in a room, drinking the same Kool-Aid and driving us off a cliff.”
By LINDA THOMAS