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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

2014 Elections Will Loom Over Washington Legislative Session

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Art Boruck with Boruck Printing and Screening in Seattle has been making political signs for more than 40 years.

Washington lawmakers convene Monday for what could prove to be the most partisan session in a decade.

Control of the Washington Senate is up for grabs this fall. Currently, a coalition of 24 Republicans and two breakaway Democrats hold a three-seat advantage. Democrats think they have shot at winning back the majority in November.

But both sides will be looking for political advantage over the next 60 days.

"A huge year for the state Senate"

This is an off-year election with no top-of-the-ballot races, but control of the state Senate is in play – really for the first time in a decade.

“This is a huge year for the state Senate,” explains Chris Vance, a former state lawmaker and Republican Party chair who often handicaps legislative races for

Vance predicts election year politics will play a big role in what happens in the Washington Senate over the next two months.

“Their minds are far more on November than they are on this 60-day session and so I think you’re going to see mostly just positioning, forcing the other guy to take bad votes and trying to set things up for election.”

This year just over half of the Washington Senate is up for re-election. But only a handful of those seats are actually in play. Democrats would need to pick up two seats and not lose any to win back control of the Senate.

What happens in Olympia won’t stay in Olympia

But they’re going after more seats than that, says Adam Bartz, the Executive Director at the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign. “We’re going to be greedy and a little selfish here.”

Republicans have four or five members in truly swing districts they need to protect. And Chris Vance says his side has the tougher job.

“It’s the Republicans that have to defend some very marginal districts,” he says.

The guy in charge of that defensive operation is Brent Ludeman. He says his job is to "get Republicans elected to the state Senate."

Ludeman runs the Senate Republican Campaign Committee in Olympia. He says in addition to protecting his incumbents he’s eyeing two Democratic seats as possible pick-ups for Republicans. Over the next 60 days he’ll be watching those Democratic incumbents closely.

“We pay attention to votes taken by members, bill sponsorships, anything that wouldn’t be in line with their district,” explains Ludeman.

In other words, what happens in Olympia won’t stay in Olympia. It will end up in campaign mailers and other forms of communication with voters this fall.

Of course, it’s not just what happens this year that matters.

Bartz notes that incumbent senators amass a four-year record that’s fair game in an election. “We’re definitely going through the records ever since they've been down in Olympia.”

For Senate Democrats, prime campaign issues may include proposals to raise the minimum wage and require health insurance companies to cover abortions. The Senate Majority Coalition, on the other hand, will likely emphasize government accountability and holding the line on taxes.

No doubt Washington senators will find some things to agree on over the next two months. But the political imperative will be to distinguish their differences, not necessarily to find common ground.

The business end of campaigning

While the bumper sticker for the 2014 Washington legislature might read: “It’s the Senate, stupid,” you could actually get that bumper sticker made at Boruck Printing and Screening in north Seattle.

For more than 40 years, Art Boruck has been printing political signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, you name it, for Democrats and Republicans.

“I work for both sides,” he says.

As the legislature convenes in Olympia, Boruck has one wish: for lawmakers to adjourn on time because that’s when his business will pick up.

“The consultants tell me it’s gonna get hot as soon as the session ends,” says Boruck.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."