It won’t get the national headlines that Michigan’s right-to-work law got, but another blue state, with relatively high union membership, Washington, has also seen a victory for Republicans, or at least for fiscal conservatism. Early this week two Democratic state senators announced that they would join with Republicans to control the state Senate. State Sen. Rodney Tom, from the affluent suburbs east of Seattle’s Lake Washington, and state Sen. Tim Sheldon, from rural blue collar Mason County west of the state capital of Olympia, announced they would join with 23 Republican colleagues to control the 49-member state Senate. Tom and Sheldon say they are forming a “Majority Coalition Caucus” and invited other Democrats to join and share committee chairmanships; they declined. The Democratic state chairman said the two defectors were “lonely men that feel this need to be important.” Tom was designated majority leader and Sheldon president pro tempore. The new education committee chairman is a supporter of charter schools and school choice; a Republican will head the health care committee charged with responding to Obamacare. This looks like a rebellion against the left liberalism that has generally prevailed in Olympia.
But isn’t Washington an overwhelmingly Democratic state? It did vote 56%-41% for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, but in the governor race Democratic former Congressman Jay Inslee only narrowly beat Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna 52%-48%. But Democratic votes tend to be clustered in Seattle’s King County, which casts about one-third of the state’s votes, and which Obama carried by 392,000 votes while carrying the rest of the state by only 72,000. Inslee carried King County by 234,000 votes and lost the rest of the state by 139,000. In other words, two-thirds of the state was Republican in the gubernatorial race which gave an advantage to Republican candidates in roughly two-thirds of the legislative seats. After Barack Obama’s big victory in 2008, Democrats controlled the Washington state Senate by a 31-18 margin. Republicans gained 4 seats sin 2010 and reduced the Democratic edge to 27-22. After Obama’s littler victory this year Republicans gained another seat this year to reduce the Democratic edge to 26-23, leaving Democrats vulnerable to two defections.
Barack Obama may be holding most of the cards in Washington, D.C. But his party isn’t doing so well in the state capitals.