The magic numbers in Olympia are 25-50-1.
No, they are not the combination to someone’s high school locker. Those are the numbers you need in order to exercise power. You need 25 votes in the Senate, 50 votes in the House and the governor to sign the bill. Right now, the Democrats have control of both houses and the governor’s office. But since the primary election, political insiders from both parties have their calculators out and are looking at the statewide returns — adding up the numbers to see which seats are lost and which seats they can retain, trying to determine if there will be a change in power after November. While there was no Republican “red tide” sweeping across the state, there was more than a trickle, and that has Democrats worried. Several seats are in play, and the winners will determine who is in charge and who gets to write the next budget.
Earlier this year, the Democrats assumed they would lose a few seats in each house, but still retain control. The Republicans’ game plan anticipated picking up a few seats this time and taking control in 2012, when all the statewide offices are up for election, including the governor.
Based on primary returns in the House of Representatives, and by totaling votes cast for each party, there are some surprises — and some incumbent Democrats could be in trouble. In Pierce County, well known legislators Dawn Morrell and Tami Green are both in for a fight. Up in Snohomish County, Hans Dunshee is behind, as is Kelli Linville in Whatcom County. However, Democrats still lead in 48 House races while Republicans lead in 41. Some of these races could still change. The remaining nine are toss-ups. But Republicans are within striking distance of the magical 50, even though it will be difficult.
In the Senate, where Democrats hold a 31-18 majority, if seven seats change parties, so does the power. It already appears that the Democrats will lose Claudia Kauffman’s seat in the 47th District (Kent) and Chris Marr’s seat in the 6th District in Spokane. Also, incumbent Democrat Eric Oemig in the 45th District (Kirkland area) is trailing, and Steve Hobbs in the 44th District (Snohomish) is in a dead heat. Appointed Senator Randy Gordon in the 41st District from the Eastside of King County was expected to have a difficult time, and he is. But State Sen. Tracey Eide’s tight race here in Federal Way (District 30) is a bit of a surprise. Democrats are going to have to work hard and raise a lot of money to retain control.
The other seat that was a surprise was Democratic Sen. Jean Berkey losing in the 38th District (Everett) primary. However, it appears fellow Democrat Nick Harper may win the seat and keep it in the Democratic column. The issue in this race: Labor was not happy with her voting record and wanted to send a message to other Democrats. Now that the message has been sent, labor will probably rethink a strategy of not supporting some Democrats, as it is not in labor’s best long-term interests to have Republicans in charge.
It seems unlikely that the Republicans would pick up the seven seats they need to take control of the Senate. Four or five seem more likely. What if they did? What if the scorecard in November reads 25-24 Republican? More than one person has noticed that exiled Republican Sen. Pam Roach might suddenly become very popular with both parties. With the revenue forecast due Sept. 16, and possibly more bad fiscal news, there is also that nasty budget to consider. The reason Democrats are opposed to a special session is it would just increase the pressure on them to raise taxes. That’s something they do not want to do any more than they want to be part of more cuts right now. This is one of the few times they are willing to let the governor do whatever she wants to cut the budget. After all, she isn’t on this year’s ballot, and they are. They are happy to wait until January.
Some Republicans would prefer to leave the budget issue up to Democrats one more time because there isn’t anything politically good waiting for anyone in 2012 who has fingerprints on the 2011-2012 budget. As a result, many Republicans want to stick to the game plan and have the public be mad at the Democrats, and make it easier for them to take power in 2012. The only downside to this strategy is: What happens in 2012 if the economy gets better, as the Democrats are hoping? Have fun keeping score.