I don't know whose idea it was, but Governor Chris Gregoire deserves a ton of credit for executing a political maneuver yesterday that could end up keeping control of the state senate in the hands of her fellow Democrats. Just days after the candidate filing deadline, Senator Cheryl Pflug (R-Maple Valley) announced she would step down July 1 to take a $92,500 a year appointment by Gregoire to a six-year term on the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, suddenly putting Pflug's 5th Legislative District into play.

Hey, thank you, Governor, for the lovely parting gift.

Pflug has been one of the more moderate members of the senate Republican caucus since being appointed to the seat Dino Rossi left to run for governor in 2004. She will be perhaps best remembered for her crucial vote on marriage equality... a vote that had earned her a Republican primary challenger from the right, Snoqualmie businessman Brad Toft.

But Pflug was also facing a tough Democratic challenger in Issaquah Councilman Mark Mullet. No Democrat has held this seat since the single term won by Kathleen Drew (now running for Secretary of State) in 1992, but Mullet is considered a bit of an up and comer, and given his name ID, experience, and lack of being a one-issue rightwing Christianist like Toft, insiders tell me that Mullet has the early edge in this suddenly competitive race.

Republicans need to pick up three Democratic seats to take control of the senate. They have a virtual lock on the seat Senator Jim Kastama (D-Puyallup) has left open to run for Secretary of State, and a decent shot at unseating senators Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) and Rosemary McAuliffe (D-Bothell). Add in races for open seats left vacant by Lisa Brown (D-Spokane), Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) and Craig Pridemore (D-Vancouver), and senate Dems have little room for error.

With Pflug's departure, the 5th LD now becomes the Democrats best shot at a pickup, followed by the Democratic-leaning 41st LD where first term Senator Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) faces a tough challenge from Maureen Judge (D-My Ex-Wife). If Dems can pickup one or both of these seats, the Republicans once promising takeover math becomes awfully complicated.