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Originally published Monday, December 17, 2012 at 3:04 PM

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GOP spurns Dems' counter-offer to split power in state Senate

Democrats are offering to split power down the middle, in their response to the "Majority Coalition Caucus" of the GOP and two breakaway Dems. Republicans rejected the proposal.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — Democrats on Monday offered to split power down the middle with Republicans in the state Senate, but at this point they are bargaining from a position of weakness.

The GOP quickly rejected the proposal.

Democratic Sen. Ed Murray, the current majority leader, proposed becoming co-leader with Republican caucus leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. In addition, Democrats called for all Senate committees to have Republican and Democratic co-chairs.

The unusual move came after Republicans announced this month they plan to take control of the Senate with the help of two Democrats, Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, Mason County.

The GOP had proposed having Democrats lead six committees while Republicans would head up six others.

But Democrats complain they'd be in charge of lower-tier panels, while the GOP would control the powerful budget-writing committee as well as education and health care.

Republicans and Democrats would co-chair three other committees under the GOP plan. In addition, Tom would become the Senate majority leader, and Republicans would control the flow of legislation in the Senate.

Democrats rejected the Republican plan Monday.

"Our offer is, we will support your leadership and you will support our leadership and we will go into a co-arrangement for two years, and that way we will stabilize the Senate," Murray, D-Seattle, said.

However, the Democrats appear to have little leverage in forcing the GOP to share power on a broader level.

As long as Tom, Sheldon and the 23-member Republican caucus stick together, they can control the Senate by a 25-to-24 vote.

Tom and Schoesler could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

But they issued a joint statement that a Republican spokeswoman said was their response to the Democratic proposal.

"Senator Murray has said repeatedly that in order for the Senate to function, someone has to be in charge. We agree, and as the new majority we are committed to moving forward with the Senate structure we believe best reflects the values of the people of our state," they said.

Although Murray is still technically the majority leader, he talked like a minority leader when told of the GOP response.

"My hope is that if they don't like our proposal they would come back with something that would make the minority (Democrats) believe that they had a more constructive role than what they've offered us," he said.

Murray made it clear Democrats won't relinquish power easily. If the GOP wants control, they'll have to use their newfound majority to take over when the Legislature goes into session next month.

Tom sent Murray a letter Monday, before the Democratic counteroffer was announced, saying they were prepared to do just that by changing Senate rules when the Legislature goes into session.

"When the 2013 session convenes on January 14 of next year, the members of our Majority Coalition Caucus will take the steps necessary to begin functioning as the Senate's majority caucus," Tom wrote.

"We believe it would be best for the institution ... if the current majority would accommodate our incoming majority," he wrote. "The alternative would be to risk the very chaos you have publicly warned might accompany a change in the Senate majority."

There is no provision for Tom to be in Senate leadership under the Democratic proposal.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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