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Government 101: What Is A Whip, Anyway?

Washington House Republican communications

Elected leaders from both major parties are preparing for their next congressional and legislative sessions in January.

One of their annual rituals is to choose leaders who will shepherd their parties’ agendas through the legislative process. Those leaders hold titles such as floor leader and whip.

But what do these people actually do?

For this exercise, we’ve turned to two of eastern Washington’s legislative leaders. One is Third District Democratic Rep. Marcus Riccelli. Members of his party elected him as their whip.

“I do a lot of the vote counting. I work with members to help get their bills to the floor and I work with our caucus to understand if we have the votes to pass a bill," Riccelli said.

Our other tutor is Seventh District Republican Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, whom members of her party elected her as their floor leader.

“The floor leader is the one when we have our floor debate that allows other members to express their concerns for their constituents and making sure that you’re following the proper rules and guidelines," Maycumber said.

She says the floor leader’s job is exciting because that person helps to give legislators a forum to make their case in front of all of their peers.

“I’ve watched a debate completely change a vote by the end of the day and it’s amazing for legislators to get up there and tell the story of the people they represent or even tell their own story and watch other members say, ‘Ok, yes, that represents my people. I will vote a different way.’ That’s the moment that you’re truly governing because you’re using passion and emotion, but you’re doing it respectfully and that is how we should be leading and should be governing," she said.

Credit Washington House Democratic communications
Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) will again serve as whip for Washington House Democrats.

As whip, Riccelli’s job is to understand how individual legislators think about the bills that work through the system.

“It doesn’t mean that because we all have the same letter by our name that we all have the same thoughts. We have a wide range of opinions inside our Democratic caucus and we need to understand before we head out to the floor if we have the votes to pass something. That’s part of the responsibility, in my opinion, in being a part of the majority and trying to govern in an efficient way," he said.

Besides the whip and floor leader, there are other leadership positions, including the caucus chairs. Maycumber says those are the legislators who lead the meetings, in her case, of House Republicans.

“Making sure that everyone has their time to speak and then he uses a gavel and presides, just like the floor, we do that in the caucus," she said.

She says the caucus chair has other duties too, including making sure that legislators get to the meetings they need to be at and to make sure they’re prepared.

“There’s a lot of conversation that occurs with your caucus, explaining fully the benefits or the negative aspects of every single bill that comes up, every single bill, which is enormous in some years. It could be thousands," she said.

And then there are the party leaders, the majority and minority leaders.

“The leader is responsible for leading the caucus and handling a lot of the media relations and really goes over strategy, meets with the other side frequently and really sets the agenda," she said.

There are also deputy leaders. The Republicans’ deputy leader is Maycumber’s Seventh District seat mate, Rep. Joel Kretz.

Marcus Riccelli says he sought a leadership position to ensure that Spokane’s and eastern Washington’s interests are represented when Democratic leaders set their agenda.

“I’m also a problem solver. I get to work a lot with my colleagues and I think I work well with both sides. Some of my work is working with the other side too, regarding things that happen with floor action and potential bills that may or may not come up," he said.

In the House, the majority party also has the Speaker of the House and pro tem speakers who preside over the body when the speaker hands them the gavel.

Riccelli’s Third District seat mate, Andy Billig, was elected by his fellow Democrats as the Senate Majority Leader. 

The gavels drop on January 11 for both the Washington and Idaho legislatures.