Last week, the Wire hosted a virtual conversation with Republican caucus leaders Sen. John Braun and Rep. J.T. Wilcox and Republican floor leaders Sen. Shelly Short and Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber on the 2021 legislative session.
The Republicans discussed their silver linings from what was a strong session for the majority. They worked with Democrats to achieve bipartisan wins and put out minority budget proposals which helped them secure some of their priorities. Looking ahead, legislative Republicans believe voters will reward them at the ballot box when the impacts of the 2021 session become clear.
Here are the highlights:
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Among the bipartisan initiatives this session, Braun thinks Republicans led on the Working Families Tax Credit, forest health, and securing funding for the Developmental Disabilities Waiting List. The budget writer is also especially proud of securing an $800 million paydown of the pension liability in the Teachers’ Retirement System plan 1 fund.
Braun said police reform was needed, but the legislation passed by Democrats “went too far.” He also lamented the “complete failure” to reform the governor’s emergency powers during the session
Wilcox applauded the fact for the first time since he’s been in Olympia, both minority caucuses introduced comprehensive budget proposals early on in the session: “Normally for political reasons that isn’t done. It gives the other side a lot to shoot at and if you’re going to come out first with a budget, you also are giving up the opportunity to have a little bit more information and people can say that it’s dated. But I think that because we did that, we had a frame of reference for the entire session and I think it really allowed us to have some consistency in our budget debate.”
Maycumber said the virtual session made testimony more accessible but it also made having one-on-one conversations with constituents more difficult. Did that create an opportunity for Democrats to pass policies they couldn’t in the past? Short think so.
The legislative process took place. It happened. All the hearings were held, we had our floor actions and all of that. But that’s actually a very small part of what happens in session. It is all the conversations … you could just feel the session was at arm’s length, both from people who needed to talk to us but actually with each other as well,” said Short.
Wilcox thinks the Capitol Press Corps was shut out this session. He recounted Melissa Santos of Crosscut telling him about doing an interview with a budget negotiator though an open window while she stood in the bushes outside the JLOB building. These circumstances, Wilcox said, created “the perfect situation to orchestrate an agenda.”
How will Republicans approach the capital gains tax go from here? Braun expects the issue to play in the Courts and an initiative in 2022.
Wilcox speculated that the ire directed at Gov. Inslee from Democratic leaders last week over his “Grand Bargain” vetoes might all be theatre. “I can’t believe that the Democrats involved in this were totally surprised either,” said Wilcox.
Weighing on how the redistricting process is going, Braun says the preliminary data indicates that things look worse for Republicans than they did ten years ago: “Most of the population gain since 2010 has been in the central Puget Sound. When you start with that, how you shift districts, it probably makes it a little bit more challenging for us.” Nevertheless, Braun says he’s optimistic that redistricting will help Republicans focus on a policy message that will keep them competitive in swing districts. The complete data is expected in September.
Between now and 2022, Braun says Republicans will need to convince voters that what happed this session and what happens next session will be bad for them.
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