State Senate leaders plan talks in coming weeks

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Leaders in the Washington state Senate plan to meet in the coming weeks to determine how the chamber will operate now that both parties have the potential to seize majority power.

Sen. Ed Murray, the Seattle lawmaker chosen to lead the Democratic caucus, said he hopes leaders will figure out who will officially hold the majority before members begin moving into offices ahead of the session that starts in January. Democrats are expected to have a 26-23 majority, but two members of the party have indicated they are interested in working with Republicans.

Murray said he'd like to see one side or the other have a clean majority, meaning either the two wavering Democrats would stick with their party or switch over to caucus with Republicans. He said any efforts to change the chamber's rules could make it difficult for the Senate to be productive.

"At what point do you become ineffective because you've entered into some sort of convoluted governing arrangement that doesn't allow you to accomplish what you came down here for?" Murray said. "I'm more concerned about the Senate functioning than with being majority leader."

Acknowledging their tenuous majority, Democrats have suggested new structures for Senate committees. They proposed a committee on education financing that would be chaired by one member of each party, and they proposed having the majority party with just a one-person advantage in other committees.

The Democrats also chose some moderates to lead committees, including the two potential defectors - Sens. Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch.

"I hope they look at it and say, 'This is some of what we want, and this seems reasonable,'" Murray said. He said it won't be possible for the two senators to get everything they want.

Tom and Sheldon didn't return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Republican Sen. Mark Schoesler said there is no roadmap to follow and that people would need to "stay tuned" to find out who will become the Senate's majority leader.

"Right now, it's just a little bit of a blur," Schoesler said. "We're just trying to pull all the loose pieces together as quickly as we can."