BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – There were fireworks on the House floor Tuesday after Rep. Bob McDermott introduced House Resolution 5, which if passed, would have replaced the hierarchy of the Republican leadership with a more conservative faction and dissolved support by the Republican caucus for the current Democratic faction in power.
McDermott, who said the current minority and majority leadership “lacked transparency” and has “shortchanged the interest of the public,” focused partly on removing Rep. Cynthia Thielen from the House Judiciary Committee and replacing her with fellow Republican, Rep. Richard Fale, because Thielen is in favor of legalizing gay marriage.
Senate Bill 1, which would legalize same sex marriage, is being debated in the legislature this week, and reaches the House Judiciary and Finance Committees on Thursday morning.
The stakes are high and the vote in the House is close, with the bill possibly passing by as many as one or two votes if it reaches the House floor. Thielen’s position on the Judiciary committee is key, McDermott said.
“In my estimation, the vote on the committee for SB1 was 6-6, and we could have killed it in committee,” McDermott said. “I love Cynthia to death on a personal basis but we just disagree politically.”
Thielen is a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and said she has no intention of stepping down, even though her position supporting same sex marriage is in contrast to her party leadership and that of her caucus leadership.
“I’m a mainstream Republican who supports Marriage Equality. I refused to step down from Judiciary Committee, where I am Ranking Member,” said Thielen.
House Minority Leader Aaron Ling Johanson said he didn’t agree with McDermott’s tactics.
“Removing Rep. Thielen from the Judiciary Committee is not the only way to kill the bill,” Johanson said. “I oppose the Special Session because it denies people who disagree on this issue the opportunity to fully participate in the democratic process. Similarly, I oppose removing Rep. Thielen from the House Judiciary Committee against her will because it denies her a say on a committee she has served on for years simply because she disagrees with me and the other members of the Minority Caucus on this issue.”
Johanson is also a target of McDermott’s resolution. McDermott sought to replace Johanson with former House Minority Leader Gene Ward, because he doesn’t feel the House Republican caucus is consistently standing up for Republican values or leading the caucus effectively. Johanson replaced Ward before the start of the 2013 legislative session.
“What does the Republican caucus stand for?” McDermott asked, pointing out the caucus’ lack of unity or focus.
“Representative McDermott and I both oppose same-sex marriage, but respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree with some of my fellow Republicans that giving up any official role within the House of Representatives is the best way to further our policy goals,” Johanson said. “This counterproductive strategy sends the wrong and untrue message that when Republicans don’t get exactly what we want, we cannot work with people in good faith and in a constructive manner to achieve our objectives.”
McDermott said he is also disappointed that the Democrat majority leadership took up the issue of same sex marriage legalization this week, after House Democrats had already agreed there would be no special session.
In a highly controversial move before the 2013 legislative session, the 7 House Republicans in the 51-member body supported House Speaker Emeritus Joe Souki in his move to unseat House Speaker Calvin Say.
Their support helped bring Souki, a controversial figure in his own right, back to power, and pushed out the more conservative faction of the Democratic Party.
McDermott acknowledged today that their support for the Souki faction was a mistake.
“As a member of the coalition who put the more liberal wing of the Democratic caucus in power, what sold me on it was their promise for openness, transparency, and deliberative process. Then go do this,” McDermott said noting that their leadership had gone around the wishes of the majority and set the special session to push gay marriage.
“Their promises were only quest for power,” McDermott said. “We got played and I don’t want any part of it.”