‘Like being in a big family’: Top House leaders talk bipartisanship in Olympia

OLYMPIA, Wash. – While fiery debate is more likely to make the news, top leaders in Olympia say respectful discussion between Democrats and Republicans is far more common than the press might let on.

Representative J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, and Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, agreed to sit down together to talk bipartisanship with Q13 News – a concept both agree may be more of a reality early on each session.

“The legislature is an emotional place,” said Rep. Wilcox, the Washington State House Minority Leader. “People are very passionate about the things they care about. Nobody sends you here, nobody votes for you because they want you to come in and give up. In the beginning (of the session), there’s hope for everybody. Everybody’s optimistic about their bills. As you get toward the end of the session, people who care the most I think become the most passionate. Sometimes that damages friendships.”

Wilcox compared the legislature to “being in a big family,” saying disagreements are a fact of life.

Representative Sullivan, the House Majority Leader, said most lawmakers try to keep things from getting too personal.

“We talk all the time about really focusing on the policy and not the person delivering that policy,” said Sullivan, now in his fifteenth year in the legislature.

“Certainly, there are times where we have conversations here that are serious, where we’re pretty passionate about our positions, but again that’s not the norm I don’t think in Olympia. And I don’t know that the press actually covers situations where we’re working very well together – it doesn’t make the news.”

“People are crossing over and having conversations a lot more than anyone realizes” said Wilcox, who’s serving his ninth year in Olympia.

Both men also discussed what it means to them to be sent back to the Capitol each year to do such important work.

“I’m honored and humbled by my constituents who send me down here to work on their behalf,” Sullivan said. “Walking into the building ... it’s pretty awesome.”

“I come in here at odds hours a lot, because I live close enough to do that,” Wilcox added. “When it’s quiet and your footsteps echo, that gives you the sense that there’s a sacred duty that you have here.”