Getting acquainted with the Senate

My first couple weeks in the state Senate have been a wonderful experience.

A number of people have asked how the Senate compares with my previous experience in the House of Representatives, where I served for six years. There are a number of differences. While the membership of the state House turns over rapidly and business is conducted relatively quickly, the Senate moves much more slowly. The Senate is the more “deliberative” body of the Legislature. Because there are fewer members, there is more time in committee, caucus, and the floor for all of the members to be heard.

Floor votes are taken by oral roll call, while the House votes electronically with the touch of a button. As my predecessor in the Senate, current Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, liked to tell schoolkids who came to visit the Legislature, “the House is the gas pedal, and the Senate is the brake.”

With just 49 senators, most of them serving more than one four-year term and some of them serving for decades, the Senate is a society rich with memory, custom, and tradition. Many Senators have prior service in the state House, drawing on years of experience in the legislative process and the network of public relationships that one builds in service over time.

There are senators who have been serving since the 1990’s, and they once served with lawmakers who had been serving since the 1970’s. There is a bond among Senators across the generations.