WA Republicans call out partisanship while Dems tout bipartisan successes
Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside called out Democratic partisanship he says he observed throughout the 2022 legislative session.
Courtesy Image/State of Washington
| March 17, 2022 1:00 AM
OLYMPIA - Wash. House and Senate Republicans are expressing frustration with a growing partisan legislature, which they say they witnessed during the recent state legislative session.
Washington is a Democrat-majority state with Republicans often have a hard time standing in the way of Democrat-sponsored legislation. Republican legislators are complaining that Democrats excluded them from controversial topics and did not provide significant tax relief despite a $15 billion surplus.
“I am surely disappointed in the partisanship of this body, the legislature and I call it the tyranny of the majority,” said Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside.
Honeyford called out the Democrat majority during a closing floor debate held last Thursday. He had proposed several bills, some would have increased penalties for fentanyl dealers and addressed cannabis retail robberies, but for the first time in 28 years, none passed.
House and Senate Republicans have expressed concerns similar to Honeyford’s throughout the session.
“Everyone needs a horse to ride home on,” Honeyford said. “I’m here to tell you tonight; I don’t have a horse to ride home on.”
Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Qunicy, said the democratic majority is harming its trust with Washingtonians. Democrats dumped a $15 billion budget surplus into bills and programs that may be unsustainable amid record-high inflation.
He added that constituents are unlikely to receive notable tax relief under a Democrat majority. Ybarra said that despite the legislature claiming it has the most regressive sales tax in the county, it could not pass relief measures lowering the tax by one percent.
“[The Democrats] just wanted their special projects,” Ybarra said. “They did a disservice to the people of the state of Washington.”
Gov. Jay Inslee disagreed with the assessment of partisanship during a media junket last week. Democrats and Republicans worked together to address homelessness, public safety, climate change and transportation.
Inslee said he thinks of Democrats and Republicans as people in the street, not politicians in the legislature. He believes the progress made during the session benefits both sides of the aisle and is what the people want.
“I think this is, in a sense, a bipartisan success,” Inslee said.
During the session, both parties worked together to address faults in public safety legislation from last year. The bills, which were supported by local law enforcement, refine guidelines for the use of physical force and restore authorities to detain individuals for investigative purposes.
The legislature acted as a whole in addressing catalytic converter thefts, which have increased significantly over the past year. Another bill also expanded the definition of hazing and installed new regulations for fraternities and sororities.
Democrat and Republican legislators together established an Outdoor School for All program; designated Pickleball as the official state sport; included budget proposals to address nursing shortages and delayed the implementation of the long-term care tax.
Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said floor comments claiming Democratic partisanship do not match her own experiences with the legislature. Much of the work done in behavioral and mental health was bipartisan and in housing and transportation.
She urged people to look at the data when thinking about partisanship in the legislature. Dhingra said that even when Republicans do not support a bill, they acknowledge the willingness for cooperation on a bill.
“Over and over again on so many bills,” she said, “you will hear Republicans actually say thank you for coordinating with us.”
House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, pushed back against Inslee and other Democrats, claiming the session was more partisan than in the past. Although they have similar concerns, the number of controversial topics that Republicans are excluded from is growing, Wilcox said.
Wilcox said Republicans were not briefed on the state’s transportation plan until after the Democrats began unveiling it. A lack of Republican input during the initial stage of the transportation budget ignored many Republican priorities, with only some making it further along the process.
Both parties agreed the state is in a housing crisis, yet instead of passing bills to make building homes cheaper and less complex, new regulations were created, Wilcox said.
“Except for a small number of homes that will be built with public funds, the legislature made it more expensive and complicated to build homes,” Wilcox said.
Housing was a priority for both sides, but aside from low-income budget-funded housing, he said new regulations requiring cleaner housing and energy could drive up prices and make the market scarce for everyone else.
Wilcox said he believes the pandemic and its consequential virtual format is harming the legislature. A lack of face-to-face communication made ignoring the minority opinion easier. More than 1,000 people can sign into a virtual meeting with comments then often limited to less than a minute, he said.
Republicans have argued that quantity is not quality and that by allowing so many testimonies, others are drowned out and set aside. Wilcox said legislators are doing essential work that should take place in person, not over a virtual format.
“It’s easier to just implement a partisan agenda when you don’t have to talk to people face to face,” he said.