"Independent." "Bipartisan." "Listens to you."
These are just a few of the buzzwords you're sure to see splashed across political ads this fall. Republican candidates here in Washington from U.S. Senate down to local offices are desperate to proclaim their independence from their party. It's especially true this year, as many Republicans in swing districts have realized that the "Trump Effect" may be like kryptonite for their campaign.
Here's what all these vulnerable Republicans don't want you to know: every one of them has voted with their party leadership at least 88 percent of the time. Some legislators - like Republican Sen. Steve Litzow - voted with their party leadership an incredible 98 percent of the time. You definitely won't see that on a mail piece this fall.
We're getting tired of all the lofty, bipartisan rhetoric being thrown around by very conservative candidates who are running for a seat on the Washington state legislature. From funding our kids' schools to fighting climate change and helping workers earn a living wage, our Legislature faces major issues in 2017. With Democrats holding only a single vote majority in the state House and Republicans holding a two-seat majority in the state Senate, the stakes are too high for Republicans to get away with their claims of "independence" unchecked, so we took a closer look.
Fuse analyzed all 366 final votes taken on bills in the state Senate and 429 votes taken in the House this year. There is a tradition in Olympia for legislatures to vote with their party on procedural motions and then vote their conscience on final passage, so we thought that using final votes would be the most fair standard. For the small number of bills where legislators overruled Governor Inslee's veto, we used the original roll call vote. We then compared the voting record of key House Republicans to their Minority leader, as well as key Republican Senators to their Majority Leader. These votes came on both small, uncontroversial bills and major pieces of legislation that will impact working families in our state for years. The only consistent thing is that Republicans voted with their party leadership again and again.
Who is in Charge?
Since all of these "independent" legislators are actually voting with the Republican leaders nearly every time, who is calling the shots? The real decision makers are two very conservative legislators who are not household names in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler represents the 9th Legislative District in Southeast Washington, one of the largest and most rural districts in the state. In the House, Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen represents the 39th district, another large district covering the rural east side of Snohomish and Skagit counties. Schoesler and Kristiansen hold many extremely conservative views, including opposing abortion, opposing universal background checks for gun purchases, blocking action to fight global warming, supporting Tim Eyman's self-serving initiatives, opposing transit funding, and refusing to close tax loopholes to fund education, just to name a few. A candidate holding Schoesler or Kristiansen's extreme views would have a very difficult time getting elected in most of the swing districts. Not surprisingly, the vulnerable Republicans who are up this year don't want you to know that they follow the lead of their very conservative leadership 88 to 98 percent of the time.
The State Senators
We analyzed the voting record of these 11 legislators for the 2016 Legislative session. You can also click on their names for more details about their background, districts, and voting record.
Senator Steve Litzow (98 percent): Despite representing the most progressive district of any Republican in the legislature, Litzow tied for the highest rate of voting with party leadership. The 60 percent of his constituents who voted for President Obama in 2012 can't be pleased about this.
Senator Mark Miloscia (98 percent): Miloscia, who is running for state Auditor this year, tied for the highest voting rate with the Senate Republican leadership. His website claims he has "unquestioned integrity," but we're not sure how that translates to voting the Republican party line 98 percent of the time.
Senator Steve O'Ban (98 percent): O'Ban is a socially conservative Senator from Pierce County who completed the three-way tie at 98 percent. The few times he deviated from his party leadership were on social issues like rolling back protections for LGBT members of our community, where he was actually to the right of his party leadership. O'Ban is a perfect fit for all the voters who've been thinking "Republicans in Olympia have been OK, but I just wish they were more conservative."
The State Representatives
Representative Mark Harmsworth (97 percent): Harmsworth is a freshman Republican from a swing district in Snohomish County. He did little to distinguish himself during his first term, voting against his leadership this year on only 15 out of 429 votes. Don't hold your breath to see that voting record on his campaign materials.
Representative Lynda Wilson (95 percent): Wilson, who is running for state Senate this year, came in a close second by voting with Republican leadership 95 percent of the time. Like Sen. O'Ban, several of her "independent" votes came on bills where she was more conservative than her party leadership.
Representative Dan Griffey (94 percent): Griffey was narrowly elected in 2014 to the same district as MacEwan. The voters of the moderate 35th district likely weren't expecting to elect someone who would vote with the Republican Party 94 percent of the time. We're not buying it, Dan.
Representative Drew MacEwan (92 percent): In his second term in Olympia, MacEwan still hasn't managed to escape the shadow of his party leadership. He voted with the Republican Minority Leader 92 percent of the time in 2016.
Representative Dick Muri (91 percent): Muri represents the same swing district in Pierce County as Sen. Steve O'Ban. Muri has run for Congress and lost twice in the last 6 years. That may not have left him much time for independent thought, as he has voted with his Republican leadership 91 percent of the time. But don't worry, he's still collecting $42,000 a year from the taxpayers.
Representative Chad Magendanz (90 percent): Magendanz is running for state Senate this year claiming to be a moderate. Rather than talking about his record in Olympia, Magendanz focuses on telling voters that his name rhymes with Häagen-Dazs. That actually might be a good strategy given that he voted with his Republican leadership 90 percent of the time.
Representative Teri Hickel (88 percent): Hickel was elected in the 2015 special election after Rep. Roger Freeman passed away. In her first year in office representing the people of Federal Way, Hickel has been an extremely reliable vote for Republican leadership, voting with them 88 percent of the time.
Representative Linda Kochmar (88 percent): Kochmar was elected in 2012 to represent the same district as Hickel. While Kochmar likes to talk about "trust," the only thing we can trust her to do is vote with GOP leaders. In their first year together, Kochmar and Hickel have been nearly indistinguishable, voting with Republican Party leadership 88 percent of the time.
We expect our leaders to represent their constituents and voice their conscience, not their party, on the major issues facing our state. For all of their rhetoric about independence and moderation, these swing legislators have faithfully voted with the Republican Party line 88 to 98 percent of the time. Their constituents deserve better simply voting the party line. It's time for a change, and that starts with electing new leaders who will represent their communities.
-Collin Jergens is the Communications Director at Fuse Washington
No candidate authorized the ads promoting this post. Paid for by Fuse Votes, 1402 3rd ave #406, Seattle, WA 98101. Top 5 contributors: Fuse WA, Fast PAC, SEIU 925, New Direction PAC, Our Votes Count.