Senate Minority Wields Little Power
Most people understand that a minority caucus in the legislature has limited ability to influence the session. But with the senate’s four-person Republican minority, it’s even harder than usual.
Short of the five members necessary even to be recognized as a formal minority, the senate’s dissident Republicans have no ability to block anything, including supermajority motions to tap reserves or override a governor’s veto.
But the bipartisan majority has done a few things they weren’t required to do: recognizing the quartet as a minority with a leader, giving them staff and placing them on committees.
Senate Minority Leader John Coghill, who used to be majority leader in the house, says the relationship between the caucuses in the senate is working out pretty well, under the circumstances.
“To the credit of those in the majority, they put us on committees, they recognize the voice that needs to be heard and they have respected that very well, so that I’m very grateful,” Coghill said.
Senator Johnny Ellis, who has been both majority leaders and minority leader, said he wanted to extend better treatment to the minority than Democrats got when Republicans were in charge.
“Everyone in the state senate was elected the same way, whether they’re in the majority or in this small minority,” Ellis said.
Coghill said he tries to pick his battles carefully because all he has in his toolbox is the power of persuasion. “[It’s] if we totally disagree with them, not to whine, but to bring up suggestions for change,” Coghill said. “And it’s so important to keep the vitriolic – the angry bitterness – out of it.”
Ellis noted that the senate just passed a bill by minority member Fred Dyson regarding crime victims regaining seized property. “That was an example of a minority bill being treated with respect, on its merits, very early in the session,” Ellis said.
There are moments when the majority and minority are colleagues and not adversaries.
That being said, Coghill notes he is not always successful in making suggestions about procedure.
For example, the controversial bill to decouple oil and gas taxes from each other was given an immediate referral to the Senate Finance Committee. Coghill argued it should stop at the Resources Committee first, but the bipartisan majority did not take his advice.