Senate Democrats will be led by the most diverse leadership team in the history of the Washington State Legislature when lawmakers return to Olympia in January for the 2019 legislative session.
The Senate majority leader hails from Spokane on the east side of the Cascades. The two deputy leaders are women of color from distinctly different cultures and backgrounds. The caucus chair is a Tulalip Tribe member who has long served as the Legislature’s leading authority on tribal issues.
“I think it’s fair to say that a Washington legislative caucus has never had the benefit of this diverse a range of representation,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said. “It’s one thing to talk about someone else’s needs and another thing altogether to have lived them. No one needs to explain Eastern Washington priorities to me; I’ve been fighting for them ever since I was elected to the Legislature.”
Similarly, the caucus chair needs no primer on tribal issues. Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip) has been the Legislature’s foremost arbiter of tribal concerns since he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2003.
One of the two deputy leaders, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), is a former labor organizer who worked with farmworkers in eastern Washington. The other, Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), is a prosecutor who has led community-wide efforts to prevent domestic violence in King County. Both broke barriers upon entering the Senate: Saldana became the only Latina in the chamber, while Dhingra became the first Sikh woman ever elected to a state legislature. Both say they understand intuitively whether aspects of state laws meet or fail the unique needs of Washingtonians of color.
“The Legislature is full of smart, insightful elected officials who can write strong, sensible laws, and our knowledge is further enlightened by our personal life experiences,” Saldaña said. “Representation matters, and when we apply a more diverse range of experiences to our work, we wind up with better laws that apply more fairly and equitably to the very diverse communities that make up our state.”
“In addition to serving as deputy leader, Saldaña will serve as vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and serve on Labor & Commerce as well as the new Housing Committee.
“As a King County prosecutor in my day job, I have the benefit of a specialized skill set that increases my awareness of the legal ramifications of any legislation I touch,” Dhingra said. “In the same light, I know that when women of color advance into leadership roles, we flourish. We uplift our communities. We uplift us all.”
In addition to her leadership duties, Dhingra chairs the Senate’s new Behavioral Health Subcommittee. She will also serve as vice chair of Law & Justice and serve on the Health & Long Term Care Committee.
“Our life experiences allow us to do far more than represent a particular point of view,” McCoy said. “I can look at a proposed law and know readily if it might violate tribal sovereignty or cause other problems unique to tribes. That results in legislation that is better grounded, laws that are more fair, and communities that are healthier.”
In addition to his leadership post, McCoy will serve as vice chair of the Environment & Tourism Committee. He will also serve on Early Learning & K-12 as well as on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.
“We may do our work during the legislative session here in Olympia,” Billig said, “but we are focused on the needs of the very diverse people and communities that make up our state.”
SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS 2019 LEADERSHIP TEAM
Majority Leader: Andy Billig (D-Spokane)
Deputy Leaders: Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond); Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle)
Caucus Chair: John McCoy (D-Tulalip)
Floor Leader: Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo)
Whip: Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah)
Vice Caucus Chair: Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle)
Assistant Floor Leader: Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue)
Assistant Whip: Claire Wilson (D-Federal Way)
PENDING A FULL SENATE VOTE IN JANUARY:
President Pro Temp: Karen Keiser (D-Federal Way)
Vice President Pro Temp: Steve Conway (D-Tacoma)