Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rodney Tom Talks About the Issues and Running As A Democrat

This is Part 2 of the interviews I conducted with Jay Inslee and Rodney Tom at a fundraising event for Rodney held this past August 9th. Part 1 is here.

Jay Inslee and Rodney TomRodney, currently a state representative, is running for State Senate in the 48th District. He switched parties earlier this year, leaving the Republicans for the Democrats. Below is the transcript of our conversation, or if you're a fan of audio clips, you can listen here.

In the transcript, "JB" is me, "RT" is Rodney Tom.

JB: Rodney Tom, what prompted you to run for office?

RT: Really education. I just looked at - My kids go to Medina Elementary where we're very fortunate. And well we have this school auction every year and it raises 200, 250 thousand dollars. And I started to go down the items that covers and I'm starting to look at this list going "that sure looks like it should be covered, and that should be covered, and that should be covered, and that looks pretty basic."

JB: [Covered] by the state, you mean?

RT: Correct. And from that I'm like "what are we doing at the state level?" And then I started to think, you know, when I grew up my parents weren't wealthy. What happens to these schoolkids who don't have parents from wealthy areas? Do they just go without, or...? So that was really my passion for getting into politics was making sure that every child has the opportunities that I had growing up with an excellent education so that they can compete in the global economy.

JB: Yeah somebody tried calling that "No Child Left Behind" once.

RT: Right, No Child Left Behind I think had great promise, but you've got to fund it and that's what we need to do here at the state level. We can't just talk about great education, we have to make sure that we have the resources behind that to make it a reality.

JB: So, how's your campaign going so far?

RT: Incredible. I'm at about 4900 doors so far, and I can tell you that [from] the message at the door it's going to be an absolutely fantastic year. Obviously there's a lot of anxiety with where the Republicans and the President have taken our country at the national level. People are very satisfied with where the governor and the legislature - what we've done at the state level in moving forward some education measures, in moving forward some of the transportation measures, and addressing some of the health care issues. And I think there's such a contrast there in that: the success we're having at the state level and the kind of the chaos we've seen at the national level. And I think that the voters out there - It's just going to be a great year in November.

JB: So having talked to a reasonable swath of the 48th District, or at least a good cross section of the kinds of people who live here, what's your take on the pulse of the district?

RT: The district is a very moderate district. If you look at the 48th, two years ago George W. Bush was 42%, Nethercutt was 42, even Dave Reichert lost the 48th by 5 points to Dave Ross. The district is very much in our favor and I would say having knocked on 4,900 doors that those numbers are probably 5 points light in our favor coming into this election. So I think - taking all the considerations as far as the national mood, how I fit this district, [that] we have a state senator currently who's completely out of sync on probably the top 12 issues in this district - I just think it's going to be a great year.

JB: So outside of education what's something the legislature should be doing to make Washington a better place?

RT: I think there's a lot of things we can be doing, as far as transportation, getting a transportation system that is coordinated, that works together. You know it's going to take some roads, it's going to take some light rail, and more importantly on that I think we need to incorporate our housing policies with our transportation policies. I think that's one area where we kind of fall short.

JB: You know I haven't really heard anybody mention those two items together. Could you expand on that a little bit?

RT: Sixty percent of the new home buyers in Snohomish County work in King County. We don't have a transportation infrastructure either now or in the future that's going to accomodate that kind of growth. We need to make sure that the growth that's occuring is by the job centers.

So what I want to do is start moving some of the ways that we're projecting our growth. Trying to make sure that our job base and our housing base are together so that, you know, we can have people ride their bike, we can have them walk, we can have them take a short transit trip instead of these longer and longer commutes across counties.

JB: So, rank-and-file voters - or at least general folks on the street that I talk to - don't seem to get the connection between every Tim Eyman initiative that comes down the pike and the fact that they're pushing the state ever closer and closer to having an income tax. And when you think about how we fund the state there's obviously two options, an income tax or fees and use taxes on roads and national parks and whatnot. What's your take on those two sources of funding and what is best for the state?

RT: Well I still think an income tax is probably a little ways off. We might have some issues here as far as there is some federal legislation that would pretty much decimate our current B-and-O structure as far as taxation. That accounts for about 18% of the revenue that we gather at the state [level]. If that were to go away, I mean, we can't just make up for an 18% hole.

Having knocked on the doors I have, I can say that I think property taxes are near their top - and that's pretty much across the board; Republicans and Democrats will tell you that - and I think sales taxes are pretty close to being at the top. And with the new initiatives coming up as far as transportation, I think [sales taxes] will be at their peak. Plus the regressive nature of that I don't think is good for moving foward.

So I think it's something that we're going to be looking at. I think in the short term there are some other avenues out there as far as looking at some of the business credits [...] that we're giving that really produce no economic benefit. They're pretty much a give-away and we need to start looking at some of those and figuring out where we can get some of this additional revenue.

JB: So if you could change something about the state Democratic party organization, what would it be?

RT: Great question. I think what I would do is, I think our database - and this is kind of more of a technical nuts-and-bolts type thing -

JB: Hey, infrastructure matters.

RT: Correct. The database I think needs to be much more user friendly. I know when I'm out doorbelling, and I'm looking at the database and it's saying this guy's an independent, and the guy's saying, you know, "I've never voted for a Republican, I always vote Democrat," and I don't have the ability to change that on the database. I think we can have much [more accurate] databases if we give more local control. And that's one area where I think the Republicans, and I'll be quite honest, they are a better organized effort in their database.

They're very targeted. They're able to focus on specific voters, specific issues. And that way they don't have to go with their mean-spirited philosophy on everything, but they can kind of pick one or two issues that are instrumental to that voter, or important to that voter. And they just stress that for that voter. And then for the next voter it's another two issues.

JB: So they're doing personalized politics in some sense.

RT: Correct. And we need to get to that level. And I think you get to that level through a very sophisticated database. And that's the next level of politics. I think we have the message, we have the issues, but we need to market it better. Right now we're being beat on the marketing side.

JB: So there's an obvious overlap between what you just said and the local progressive blogosphere and the netroots, which are, you know, a bunch of pretty tech-savvy people with a progressive mindset. So I'm wondering, what are you doing to engage the netroots, with the Northwest Progressive [Institute] and HorsesAss, and sites like that in your campaign?

RT: Obviously we're talking with the individuals who are blogging, and obviously we have a website. And just trying through all of our materials trying to engage people back to the website. Actually, when I'm at the door, most people are pretty surprised, one, to have met you, and usually they don't have questions in mind. But that's one area where we are, you know, getting communciation back from the voters.

It's kind of like "ok, I know I caught you by surprise, but here's my website on this brochure, I'd love to hear from you when you do have a question." And then about five minutes after you leave, you know, they come up with their question and they're viewing us through the internet.

But the internet is going to become more and more of a tool, and I've seen that over the election cycles, and I think this year it's going to be very important, and we will have a website that will accomodate that. Again, from my doorbelling, it's going to be a great year for Democrats.

JB: All right. Well, Rodney Tom, thank you for talking with us.

RT: Thank you.

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