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Thursday, December 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Democrats reach across aisle to fill 2 committee posts

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — House Democrats on Wednesday awarded two Republicans top committee posts, a concrete sign that Democrats intend to reach across the political aisle, House leaders said.

Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, will be chairman of the newly formed Select Committee on Environmental Health, and Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, will be vice chairwoman of the House Committee on Early Learning & Children's Services.

Both lawmakers are favorites of the Democrats, who broadened their House majority to 62-36 last month. Campbell, a former Democrat who switched parties in 1995, is essentially an independent who doesn't sit with either party caucus. He bolted the GOP caucus a few years ago and hasn't returned. He is a moderate and often votes with the Democrats but still considers himself a Republican and was re-elected under the party label last month.

His chairmanship was approved by the Democratic caucus Wednesday at the recommendation of the leadership and the Committee on Committees. The crossover selection is unusual, but not unprecedented. Campbell is the current vice chairman of the Health Care Committee.

Walsh, just finishing her freshman term, is a moderate Republican who helped round up votes for Gov. Christine Gregoire's successful proposal for a new cabinet-level agency on early childhood education. Like Campbell, she is popular with both sides of the aisle.

Democrats released the majority party committee assignments without comment, but after an inquiry, House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said, "Good ideas and leadership do not come from just one side of the aisle. The continued prosperity of Washington state depends on all of us working together cooperatively."

Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said that despite their larger new majority, Democrats plan to work with all members, including freshmen and Republicans, in collaborative style.

"Honestly, we wanted to reach out to them," she said.

"It's an incredible honor. You couldn't ask for better treatment," Campbell said. He also got his other committee requests, Transportation and Health Care.

His new panel will deal with a broad array of environmental health bills.

Walsh was delighted. "I commend the Democrats for extending an olive branch across the aisle. With all their members, giving a vice chairmanship to a Republican was a bold thing to do. It's a baby step toward bipartisanship."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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