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See the entire 2010 WSLC Legislative Report


Conservative caucus endangers Democrats

President, Washington State Labor Council

Another decade begins with leaders of the Republican Party -- in both Olympia and Washington, D.C. -- advocating primarily for corporations and obstructing the Democratic majorityís efforts to revive the economy and help struggling working families. Hoping that the political winds will shift their way in the elections this fall, GOP leaders consistently weigh legislation not by whether it is the right thing to do, but by its value as a partisan political opportunity.

As always, there are exceptions to party labels.

In our State Legislature, there are some Republicans who keep an open mind, meet with labor, consider our perspective and ultimately vote our way, instead of toeing the party line. Likewise, there are Democrats who listen to business lobbying groups and side with Republicans on some issues.

The commercial media are fond of labeling such legislators as "moderates," or better still, "mavericks." Given how sickeningly extreme that partisanship has become in government, itís easy to see why individuals who buck their leaders from time to time would be applauded for their independence.


The following state legislators are listed as members of the Roadkill Caucus of conservative corporate Democrats on the groupís Facebook page:

SENATORS Steve Hobbs (founder), Jean Berkey, Brian Hatfield, Jim Kastama, Derek Kilmer, Chris Marr, Mary Margaret Haugen, and Paull Shin.

REPRESENTATIVES Brian Blake, Judy Clibborn, Deb Eddy, Mark Ericks, Fred Finn, Kathy Haigh, Chris Hurst, Troy Kelley, Lynn Kessler, Kelli Linville, Jeff Morris, Al OíBrien, Dave Quall, Tim Probst, Larry Seaquist, Larry Springer, and Dean Takko.

But this year, something different emerged, masquerading as moderate.  Itís a group of Democrats calling themselves the Roadkill Caucus. They espouse a pro-corporate, anti-government agenda. They use the same rhetoric Republicans use about Washington having a horrible business climate, about the need to "reduce government's footprint," and even labeling their fellow party members as "too liberal." They pit constituencies against each other -- rural areas vs. Seattle -- in open defiance of the party's theme of "One Washington."

True moderates espouse their partyís traditional values but occasionally disagree with their leadersí positions and agenda. The Roadkill Caucus is a group of lawmakers attempting to move their partyís already-centrist agenda to the right, in open opposition to their partyís base constituencies.

Here are some of the things that the Roadkill Caucus fought for in 2010:

Block unemployment insurance benefits -- Sen. Chris Marr (D-Spokane) said the caucus opposed any revenue increases but, in exchange for caucus votes to raise taxes, he urged his partyís leaders to kill labor-backed legislation to extend unemployment insurance eligibility to part-time workers and to workers facing undue hardship. The bill, which would have captured $98 million in federal UI modernization funds, died and the Roadkillers took full credit.

Privatize state services -- Using rhetoric straight out of the Republican playbook about private-sector efficiency versus public-sector inefficiency, Roadkillers fought to close the State Printer (killing 100 family-wage jobs) and to privatize state liquor stores (killing 1,000 family-wage jobs).

Impose health care takeaways on state employees -- The Roadkill Caucus fought to scuttle a $65 million budget proviso, arguing that state employees should have to pay higher co-pays and deductibles. They joined Republicans in urging Gov. Gregoire to reopen state employee contracts and force them to pay a higher percentage of premiums.

Roadkiller Rep. Christopher Hurst (D-Enumclaw) recently claimed that "Seattle liberals" have moved his party leftward. The reality is the Roadkill Caucus has abandoned the traditional Democratic value that government can play a positive role in improving the lives of working families. Instead, with their fingers to the political winds, they suddenly embrace conservative positions, especially on labor issues.

Their efforts to privatize liquor sales are a case in point. Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch), a conservative Democrat who supported the election of George W. Bush for president, has sponsored legislation every year for two decades to privatize liquor stores. Each year, it has died with nary a peep from Roadkillers.

But this year, everything changed. Sen. Sheldon was surprised to get a first-ever hearing on his bill and even more surprised to watch Roadkillers aggressively push this issue despite opposition from Gov. Chris Gregoire and powerful testimony on issues of public safety and the potential loss of state revenue. Thatís right, because there was no guarantee it would create revenue, this liquor privatization effort was passed off as an effort not to save money, but to "reduce the footprint of government."

The party platform hasnít changed, the Roadkillers have, by adopting a newfound election-year conservatism.

I was a state legislator for 18 years until 1991. We used to have a name for legislators who held conservative views about restricting access to unemployment insurance and workersí compensation, privatizing government and cutting state employee compensation, all while occasionally supporting revenue increases in budget emergencies. They were called Republicans. (That was before the neo-conservatives took over, moving the GOP further right and turning it into a wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.)

All of this serves to reinforce my commitment to the Washington State Labor Councilís new political strategy to identify and support the real champions of working families. (See pages 4-5 for more information.)

As I wrote in this column after last yearís debacle of a session, the political pendulum swings back and forth. More often than not, itís because the party in control begins to focus more on preserving its majority and appeasing its critics than it does on actively pursuing its own agenda. The folks who put them in the majority are left disillusioned as their support is taken for granted.

Majorities donít disappear because voters wake up one morning and decide they are more liberal or conservative (though some legislators apparently do). Voters decide they arenít being represented or that the party in charge is self-serving and out of touch.

The Roadkill Caucus is doing their dead-level best to make Democratsí election fears a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

There are many, many more stories included in the print version of the WSLC's 2010 Legislative Report. See the Table of Contents. Also, members of WSLC-affiliated unions can request a free copy of the printed version of the report.

2010 Senate Voting Record  --  2010 House Voting Record

Copyright © 2010  Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO