Four Republican Washington state senators announced Thursday they’re forming a “Freedom Caucus,” pledging to push back against what they see as the Democratic majorities’ “radical agenda” and advocate for conservative policy priorities.
The members are Sens. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, Mike Padden of Spokane Valley, Phil Fortunato of Auburn, and former Pierce County Council member Sen. Jim McCune of Graham.
A “catalyst” for forming the caucus, Ericksen said, was that Republican caucuses in the Senate and House of Representatives “refused to force a special session by denying the governor his proclamations” last year.
Still, Ericksen referred to the caucus as a “big tent” that’s open to Democrats, moderates, and others to join.
Fortunato said one reason for forming it is that the broader Republican caucus has to take into account wide-ranging viewpoints.
“What we’re really talking about is being able to push this — we want like-minded people that are preserving people’s rights and liberty and stick up for the constitutional rights,” Fortunato said.
At a virtual press conference Thursday, which was interrupted at the end by an interloper apparently posing as a news outlet, the caucus members also mentioned traditionally conservative causes such as pro-life policy, $30 car tabs, and gun rights. The new caucus’’ legislative priorities include limiting executive powers of the governor and a budget that doesn’t raise taxes, according to Ericksen.
“It is a scary agenda that is being presented in Olympia, and we need to get the message out to people far and wide that this is ... not a good situation for people in the state of Washington and the Freedom Caucus is ready to fight,” Sen. McCune said.
Democrats hold a 28-21 majority in the Senate (counting Sen. Tim Sheldon, who’s a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans) and a 57-41 majority in the House of Representatives.
“Remember ... we are in the minority, so there’s a very limited amount of things that we can actually do,” Fortunato said, saying they can try to stop what they see as bad legislation from going forward.
At the press conference, they railed against how Gov. Jay Inslee has gone about instituting economic restrictions during COVID-19 and stringent security measures introduced at the Capitol Campus. Fencing was erected around key buildings and Washington National Guard members were called in after dozens of supporters of then-President Donald Trump breached the governor’s mansion’s gates in early January.
The fencing and an enhanced Washington State Patrol presence remained as of this week. The National Guard’s presence ended in January, after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Senate Minority Leader John Braun of Centralia on Wednesday sent a letter to Gov. Inslee asking him to take down the fences, and has sponsored bills to move the entire state to Phase 2 of reopening and set baseline metrics at which point districts would be required to reopen.
Asked by a reporter if the formation of this caucus is an indictment of Braun’s leadership, Fortunato said, “I think that Sen. Braun’s leadership has been very good...” but Braun has to speak for 21 members.
“While there’s always disagreements amongst people in any individual caucus, I gotta tell you, my goal is not to go and pick a fight with my fellow Republicans or fellow conservatives, whether they’re moderate conservatives or very conservative…” Ericksen said.
In a text message, Braun said the senators have been “respectful and transparent as a subgroup” within Senate Republicans. They want to focus on issues that he believes most members also support.
“I don’t think it is intended as commentary on my leadership and don’t take it that way,” Braun wrote.