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Tough job ahead for politicians

Victory celebrations won’t last long for local politicians as they prepare to head back to Washington, D.C., and Olympia, and are forced to make critical decisions on tough issues as a growing anxiety ripples across the state.

“This is uncharted territory because we’ve never had this type of deficit,” said state Rep. Sherry Appleton, who fought off Republican Pete DeBoer to keep the 23rd district seat. “We’ve already cut out $12 billion from the budget and now the governor is saying another $5 billion needs to be cut, and that’s close to half our current budget. That will be dramatic to say the least.”

Politicians at all levels will be faced with the daunting tasks of balancing a budget strapped with historic deficits and making tough decisions on the many programs that will inevitably face the chopping block. All this will need to be done with many new faces both at the state and federal level as Republicans gained ground across the country in a sweeping shake-up of party majorities.

Congressman and islander Rep. Jay Inslee will face the most dramatic shift in power when he returns to Washington next year. Republicans garnered historic gains and strong control of the House, with 239 seats as of Thursday. The congressional delegation the state sends east could have a Republican majority for the first time since 1998 if Republican John Koster can snag the seat from Democratic incumbent Rick Larsen. As of Wednesday, Larsen was ahead by just 507 votes.

“To be honest, this is very personal. A lot of the people I work closely with won’t be there next year and we are losing several big hitters on the congressional team, so that’s going to hurt,” said Inslee. “But we need bipartisan support and I’m going to find that. I’m not going backwards on the progress that we’ve made. I’m not going back on restraining Wall Street abuses, or health care insurance abuses. We need to go forward with bipartisanship.”

Inslee said his primary goals are to review federal education assistance to local communities, Medicare issues and to move a clean energy economy forward. As the Republicans take over the majority, Inslee hopes some of the more vocal in the party move past a goal of limiting President Obama to one-term as a primary objective and focus on the more pressing issues.

Incumbent state Rep. Christine Rolfes endured a contentious race against fellow islander James Olsen and said she expects to face a very challenging year in 2011.

“We will rise to the challenge of making a lot of cuts in government spending, but my goal will be to do that in a way that helps the economy rather than exacerbates the problem,” said Rolfes.

Rolfes said her biggest budget goal is to toe the line on education funding.

“I want to put in place the reforms that we have discussed without making further drastic cuts to our basic education program,” said Rolfes.

Her second more local goal is to ensure continued services on Washington State Ferries, which are again up for discussion. Rates are likely to be hiked up 2.5 percent, but the governor asked the ferry system to take another budget cut and service reduction is on the table.

There will be plenty of new faces in Olympia in 2011, in part because of Republican wins throughout the state, and also because there were a number of seats vacated by retirements in the House, including House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler.

Appleton said the Democrats will most likely keep the majority with 53 or 54 seats, and although there will be new faces, she expects to see a lot of the same colleagues she has worked with over the years. According to The Seattle Times, the last time Republicans held a majority in the House was before the 1998 election, which produced a 49-49 tie and was broken in 2000 by the Democratic addition in a special election for Snohomish County.

“The most dramatic thing we will see is the reorganization of the caucus and having different leadership as our majority leader retired, with people vying for those leadership roles,” said Appleton.

Appleton said she expects the Democratic Party to reach for more consensus across the aisle and hopes both parties will compromise, or little will get done in Olympia. It’s still unclear whether Democrats will relinquish the majority in the senate.

Her personal goal heading into 2011 will be to protect the most vulnerable in the communities – the very young, very old and the disabled, both mentally and physically.

“Those are the ones that always get cut first and the end up in hospitals, jails and places that cost every taxpayer in the state more money,” said Appleton.

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