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Praise for Selma march, but no action on election bill

The Legislative Building of the Washington State Capitol, Olympia.

March 9, 2015 - 4:00 pm

By John Stang

Amid universal praise for the Selma civil rights march, Washington’s Republican and Democratic senators passed a resolution commending the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for leading the historic walk 50 years ago this week.

Then the Senate’s minority Democrats took the occasion to try to bring a stalled election bill — tailored to provide greater representation for people of color — to the full Senate floor. The Majority Coalition Caucus of 25 Republicans and one Democrat immediately defeated the attempt.

The Washington House Democrats plan to unveil their 2015-2017 operating budget proposal on Friday, which will start to point to how this legislative session will really go.

The bill by Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, addresses situations in which minority communities might be underrepresented in their local governments. The best example consists of a city or county with a huge minority population conducting at-large elections for a city council, school board or county commission that results in overwhelming white representation on that body. The classic remedy is to switch from at-large to district elections. Habib’s bill outlines how such situations would be defined and tackled.

This is the third year that a Democrat has introduced this bill, and the Democratic-controlled House appears ready to pass a similar measure as early as late Wednesday evening. This year, the Senate bill barely passed out of the Senate Government Operations & Security Committee, largely because of the support of the committee’s Republican chair, Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn. Since then, the bill has stalled in the Senate Rules Committee.

On Wednesday after the Senate passed the Martin Luther King resolution, Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, called for a “Ninth Order” move to bring the bill to a full Senate vote. The “Ninth Order” is a parliamentary procedure in which some legislators move to get a majority vote of the full chamber to bring a stalled bill to a final vote by the entire Senate or House. This is generally used by the minority party and usually fails — although the losing party may still regard the vote itself as something of a victory for – arguably — embarrassing the majority or providing future ammunition to be used in election campaigns against some members of the majority.

The failure is largely foreordained because an unwritten rule of the Legislature is that regardless of individual feelings about a bill, everyone is supposed to vote with his or her caucus on “procedural” matters, such as whether to consider bills that the majority leadership has not approved for consideration. Prior to Wednesday’s vote on Liias’ motion, Senate Floor Leader Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, reminded his side that this was a procedural vote. Liias’ motion died 26-23 along caucus lines. Despite her support for the measure in the Government Operations Committee, Roach voted with her caucus Wednesday to stop the Democrats’ motion.

After the vote, Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island issued a written statement that said: “Today we heard many speeches about the importance of equality, of justice and of fairness, but when it came time to act, when it came time to actually deliver on these fundamental American rights, words, not actions, won the day.”

She added, “It’s one thing to speak about the importance of these values, it’s apparently quite another to act on them.”

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

 

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