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A decided edge in Capitol
Seattle Times staff reporters
OLYMPIA — Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, was struck again by the magnitude of the Democrats' election victory when she walked into the House chambers Monday and sat down in a seat formerly held by a Republican.
Linville was surrounded by other Democrats now sitting at desks occupied by the GOP last year. "After I got over there, I almost felt bad," she said.
The election, which gave Democrats a 62-to-36 majority in the House and a 32-to-17 advantage in the Senate, made itself apparent in many ways Monday as the Legislature convened for a 105-day session.
In the House, Democrats had to move furniture and staff out of their caucus room to make space for six additional members. Their GOP counterparts had room for a coffee bar.
In the Senate, Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said he couldn't believe how many lawmakers were crammed into the Democrats' caucus room. "It was hot and sweaty in there," he said. "They're not going to have any fun."
Overall, there was a sense of giddiness apparent in the Democrats' swollen ranks. And seeming resignation among Republicans as the opposing party swarmed into the chambers.
"They have no need to talk to us. They have the votes and they're going to do what they're going to do," said Deputy House Republican Leader Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, gave an unusually boisterous speech that was long on enthusiasm and promises to do good in areas such as education, health care and job creation.
He touched on several themes also being pushed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, who has proposed a $30 billion budget that includes $4 billion in new spending.
Although Democrats don't need Republican votes, Chopp and other party leaders have vowed to work with the GOP this session. Chopp even appointed a Republican, maverick Rep. Tom Campbell, as chairman of the Environmental Health Committee in the House. However, Campbell, R-Roy, doesn't caucus with either party.
Republicans view the Democrats' promises with suspicion. "There's a lot of show around the bipartisanship, but if you look at what's happening in terms of policy it's not very bipartisan," Ericksen said.
Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, the ranking Republican on the Senate's budget committee, shrugged off his party's diminished strength.
"It is what it is," he said. "You just work with what you have."
The bigger majorities could pose some challenges for Democrats as well.
Sen. Jim Hargrove, a conservative Democrat from Hoquiam, has been one of the Senate's most powerful players. But that was when his party held a narrow majority and his vote mattered more.
Hargrove said he wasn't worried about losing clout now that Democrats have votes to spare. He said he served in the House when Democrats held a large majority and still managed to get things done. "You just have to work it differently," Hargrove said.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said one of her biggest fears is that the Democrats will become "factionalized," with urban liberals, suburban moderates and rural conservatives working at cross purposes. She said that's what happened when she served in the House during the early 1990s.
"You'll see some breakdown on some issues," said Brown, D-Spokane. "But I hope it doesn't harden into factions."
While veteran lawmakers calculated what changes the larger majorities might bring, new members were still full of awe at being in Olympia.
Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, nervously waited outside the House chambers for the opening ceremonies. "I was a visitor before," he said. "This is the real deal."
There was also a touch of opening-session quirkiness.
As state Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander was leading senators one by one through the oath of office, Sen. Pam Roach came off the floor and complained that Bibles weren't included in the ritual.
"This is incredible," said Roach, R-Auburn.
When a Senate Republican staff member asked her if she wanted him to hunt down a Bible that she could use when it was her turn, Roach replied, "You're damn right."
After Roach was sworn in, freshman Republican Sen. Janéa Holmquist of Moses Lake came over and asked if she, too, could borrow the Bible.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the Senate, said taking the oath of office with a Bible has always been a matter of personal preference.
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company