OLYMPIA, May 7.—Our friends over at the Seattle website PubliCola seem to have broken the code on this year’s legislative endorsements from the state Labor Council. There are some mighty curious omissions from the list that came out of the big endorsement convention on Saturday. Among the missing are some of the top players in the House Democratic Caucus.
There’s no mention of House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle. Or Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. Or Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, or Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, the two deputy majority leaders. Or Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, the speaker pro tem. Or Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, the assistant majority whip.
A good number of the committee chairmen seem to be missing, too. Like Ross Hunter of Ways and Means, Dean Takko of Local Government, Chris Hurst of Public Safety, Ruth Kagi of Early Learning, Judy Clibborn of Transportation and Jamie Pedersen of Judiciary.
Well, none of this is an accident. Not a single Democrat who voted for this year’s pension reform bill got an endorsement from labor. It appears that labor made Senate Bill 6378 this year’s litmus test. And now that we’re taking a close look at that vote, we can see that darn near all the Dems who voted for it were either planning to retire or held leadership positions in the House. Like, you know, maybe they figured there was going to be payback, and it was a dirty job, and somebody had to do it.
You’ll have to forgive us for not noticing this before. The bill passed the Legislature the last night of this year’s session, when lawmakers were pulling an all-nighter and Washington State Wire was trying desperately to stay awake. But suddenly it reminds us. When Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill last week, it sure seemed like the conference room cleared in a hurry, as if lawmakers wanted to make sure they didn’t want to get caught in the bill-signing photo.
The measure was one of the big reform bills of the session, one of those things the Republicans and Democratic budget hawks in the Senate were insisting on as part of the session-ending deal. The measure reduces early-retirement incentives for newly hired state employees, which all state employees have enjoyed since 2001. Right now an employee can retire at age 55 after 30 years of service with 80 percent of benefits; for those hired after July 1, that will be reduced to 50 percent. It’s not quite a return to the actuarial standards that used to be in place. The state still will goose those benefits a little – just not by as much. If the state followed actuarial standards, the reduction would be to 36 percent.
Eventually the impact will be huge: The reform is expected to save the state $1.3 billion over 25 years. And as you might expect, the Federation of State Employees hates the whole idea. So does the Labor Council. That’s why, when it came up with this year’s “scorecard,” labor gave the vote extra weight. The vote on SB 6378 counts for 25 percent of this year’s score. It means a member might have voted the “right way” 9 or 11 times, depending on whether they serve in the Senate or the House, and voted “wrong” on this one, and that drops the number down to 75 percent. That’s enough to kill things right there. Poof, there goes labor support. Or at least it does until August 6-9, when the Labor Council meets again for its annual convention in Wenatchee, and takes up the matter of endorsements again.
“It was a gratuitous attack,” Labor Council spokesman David Groves told the PubliCola site. “It was not fiscal, it was political. One billion dollars over 25 years? At that level that’s less than one percent of spending. How is that a fiscal vote?”
Only a billion. But the big thing is that at least a few Dems had to vote for it. No pension bill, no adjournment.
And here’s where things get really interesting. Of the 18 House Democrats who pressed the green button that night, 12 hold leadership positions or chairmanships. Two others, Reuven Carlyle and Mary Helen Roberts, are vice-chairs. Maybe you can call their vote gutsy or maybe you can call it one of those nasty things you have to do when you’re in leadership, but it sure looks like a pattern. Another three are retiring. Then there’s Troy Kelley, who is leaving the House to run for state auditor. No telling what he was thinking, but he didn’t get the Labor Council’s endorsement the other day, either.
In the Senate, the pattern isn’t quite so pronounced. There were two Democrats up for reelection who voted yes, and there are three more who may or may not be running again in 2014, but none of them are the sort who ever would have to worry about getting a labor endorsement in the first place. Actually, by this standard, not even Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire would be eligible for labor support if she was running again. She was the one who first proposed the idea, back in December 2010.
Naturally we have to tip our hat to PubliCola for figuring out the link between the scorecard and the endorsements. But we can take it a step further and make the obvious observation. By weighting that vote, and that vote alone, it sure looks like the Labor Council was trying to send House Democratic leaders a message – no compromise.
And now hold everything! As we studied those lists ourselves, we discovered something astonishing. Apparently state Rep. Hans Zeiger of Puyallup, surely one of the most conservative fellows in the Legislature, has moved to Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District and has had a party-change operation and is now a Democrat. We know, we’re as shocked as you are, but it’s right there in print on the Labor Council scorecard. We hope eventually to get to the bottom of this. But there. That’s one angle we got to first.