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General News    H3'ed 6/13/10

Centrists and Progressives Fight for Control of Washington State Democrats

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There's a title fight going on for the soul of Washington State's Democratic Party.

Or maybe the fight is just over the speed of change.

In one corner sit House Speaker Frank Chopp, Governor Gregoire, and the Road Kill Caucus of middle-of-the-road Democrats.

In the other corner sit the progressive caucus, the netroots, and most of the PCOs and Democratic activists (including yours truly).

The fight echoes a similar but more divisive fight within the national Democratic Party between "pragmatic" centrists (including President Obama and Blue Dog Democrats) and progressives.

The centrist Democratic faction in Washington State is eager to hold onto Democratic electoral majorities and so is willing to work with business interests such as the BIAW to delay progressive legislation. The centrists are also more sympathetic to anti-tax preferences of many suburban and rural voters.

They work under the assumption that to get re-elected they need to appeal to the broad middle and to avoid alienating campaign contributors. They fear a populist revolt, which would benefit a less "pragmatic" strategy.

During Governor Gregoire's successful 2008 bid for reelection, she promised not to raise taxes. More recently she reportedly nixed efforts to eliminate tax preferences granted to the Trans Alta Energy plant (notes from LAC meeting).

State House Speaker Frank Chopp is a consummate master of political compromise, centrism, and slow-going. He squashed the Homeowner's Bill of Rights (see also Home Warranty: A simple matter) and marijuana decriminalization.

The Road Kill Caucus is a gentler version of the national Blue Dog Democrats. According to Publicola,

The Roadkill Caucus, a group of conservative Democrats in the state legislature who feel their ideas get run over by both lefty Democrats and hard-right Republicans, have started their own political action committee, The Roadkill Political Action Committee.

The group includes: Sens. Steve Hobbs, Brian Hatfield, Derek Kilmer, Chris Marr, Mary Margaret Haugen, and Paull Shin and Reps. Judy Clibborn, Deb Eddy, Chris Hurst, Kelli Linville, Larry Seaquist, and Larry Springer.

According to this article published by the Washington Federation of State Employees, other members include House Finance Chair Ross Hunter (48th LD) and 41st LD Rep. Marcie Maxwell, . However, Ross Hunter denies that he is a member. Apparently, the WFSE was unhappy with one of Hunter's difficult budget votes.

The Road Kill Caucus has a facebook page, which lists their photos. (Ross Hunter is not listed on the photo page.)

Hunter, Eddy, and Springer spoke at recent Legislative Action Committee meetings. They seemed not at all hostile to progressive calls for a state income tax and for elimination of tax exemptions. But nor are they willing, I think, to stick their necks out on the issue of an income tax -- which is a reasonable stance, given the fact the voters in Washington State have repeatedly rejected a state income tax. Their mantra about this is: a state income tax will have to arise from a voter initiative.

In fact, the centrist Democrats in Washington State are almost certainly a good deal better than the Republican alternatives, especially on social issues. (Nationally, I'm not sure Obama is all that better than the Republicans.) The centrist Dems are all strong supporters of public education and are not eager to minimize government regulation and services. They expressed support for progressive income tax Initiative 1098. They're just (overly) concerned about the need for fiscal responsibility and about the need to stay in office. As it says in the Wikipedia article about Frank Chopp:

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Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, activist, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See http://WALiberals.org and http://ProgressiveMemes.org for my (more...)

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