The state Senate Dems named their new leadership team and committee chairs today, and it sure does look like newly elected majority leader Ed Murray is making a genuine effort to cement control of the senate by bridging the ideological gap in his own caucus. The most striking assignment: Senator Tim Sheldon of Potlatch in the role of president pro tempore, which also makes him vice-chair of the all important Rules Committee.

"I'm honored by my colleagues' expression of support and confidence," Sheldon said in a statement. "The president pro tem is responsible not just for ensuring orderly floor action but for ruling on questions of order and interpreting statute, such as whether a fee qualifies as a tax. I’m humbled to see the level of respect for my judgment."

Sheldon, who participated in last session's divisive budget coup, was notably one of two conservative Democrats threatening to organize with the Republicans this session. But this plum assignment appears to make that scenario less likely. A savvy move on Murray's part to appease Sheldon and protect his flank?

"There was no deal," insists Murray of Sheldon. "Everybody fills out a form making requests, and his requests were reasonable."

Maybe. But for those fearing some sort of liberal tyranny, you sure wouldn't know it from some key committee assignments. For example, Murray's prior perch as chair of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee is being handed to conservative Senator Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam. And the caucus is creating a bipartisan Select Committee on Education Finance and Results to be co-chaired with Republicans and to contain an equal number of members.

"I'm trying to find a way to unite the caucus," says Murray, "so that we can have a functioning majority and a functioning senate."

Whether it's functional enough to get anything done remains to be seen.