Sen­ate Repub­li­cans announced today they have for­mal­ly reached a deal with Rod­ney Tom and Tim Shel­don (of the 48th and 35th Dis­tricts, respec­tive­ly) to run Wash­ing­ton’s Sen­ate for the next two years, which means that Democ­rats will be in the minor­i­ty for the first time since the 2006 session.

At a press con­fer­ence in Olympia, Tom and Shel­don con­firmed that they have signed an agree­ment to form a “Sen­ate Major­i­ty Coali­tion Cau­cus” which will con­sist of the two of them plus the twen­ty-three Repub­li­can sen­a­tors. The Repub­li­cans have all agreed to allow Tom to serve as their major­i­ty leader and Shel­don to serve as the Sen­ate’s pres­i­dent pro tem­pore. (The pres­i­dent pro tem­pore pre­sides when the Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor is not avail­able to run the Senate).

Tom and Shel­don, con­verse­ly, are allow­ing Repub­li­cans to deter­mine the Sen­ate’s com­mit­tee struc­ture. The Repub­li­can cau­cus has already released a doc­u­ment on its web­site which lists the reor­ga­nized com­mit­tees, their names, and chairs.

The fol­low­ing tables are from that document:

Nat­ur­al Resources and Parks4 Democ­rats, 3 RepublicansDemoc­rats will appoint chair/Sen. Pear­son rank­ing Republican
Agri­cul­ture and Water4 Democ­rats, 3 RepublicansDemoc­rats will appoint chair/Sen. Hon­ey­ford rank­ing Republican
Trade and Eco­nom­ic Development4 Democ­rats, 3 RepublicansDemoc­rats will appoint chair/7th Dis­trict sen­a­tor rank­ing Republican
Finan­cial Insti­tu­tions & Insurance4 Democ­rats, 3 RepublicansDemoc­rats will appoint chair/Sen. Ben­ton rank­ing Republican
High­er Education4 Democ­rats, 3 RepublicansDemoc­rats will appoint chair/Sen. Bai­ley rank­ing Republican
Envi­ron­ment and Marine Waters3 Democ­rats, 2 RepublicansDemoc­rats will appoint chair/Sen. Delvin rank­ing Republican
Ways and Means12 Repub­li­cans, 11 DemocratsSen. Hill [Democ­rats choose rank­ing member]
Com­merce and Labor4 Repub­li­cans, 3 DemocratsSen. Holmquist New­bry [Democ­rats choose rank­ing member]
Ear­ly Learn­ing and K‑12 Education6 Repub­li­cans, 5 DemocratsSen. Lit­zow [Democ­rats choose rank­ing member]
Gov­ern­ment Operations4 Repub­li­cans, 3 DemocratsSen. Roach [Democ­rats choose rank­ing member]
Law and Justice4 Repub­li­cans, 3 DemocratsSen. Pad­den [Democ­rats choose rank­ing member]
Health Care5 Repub­li­cans, 4 DemocratsSen. Beck­er [Democ­rats choose rank­ing member]
Human Ser­vices and Corrections3 Repub­li­cans, 3 DemocratsSen. Car­rell (co-chair)/Democrats will appoint a co-chair
Trans­porta­tion8 Repub­li­cans, 8 DemocratsSen. King (co-chair)/Democrats will appoint a co-chair
Ener­gy and Telecommunications3 Repub­li­cans, 3 DemocratsSen. Erick­sen (co-chair)/Democrats will appoint a co-chair

Notice that the Repub­li­cans gave them­selves con­trol of the all-impor­tant Ways & Means Com­mit­tee, as well as Gov­ern­ment Oper­a­tions, and an equal num­ber of mem­bers on Trans­porta­tion (which means they can block Democ­rats from mov­ing any bills they don’t like through Transportation).

Repub­li­cans tried to dress up their announce­ment as “get­ting away from pol­i­tics” being in the pub­lic inter­est. Right. Because pol­i­tics should­n’t be political.

“It’s sup­posed to be a pow­er-share rather than a pow­er-grab,” Lin­da Evans-Par­lette told reporters gath­ered for the press con­fer­ence Capi­tol Campus.

But a pow­er-grab is exact­ly what this is. By join­ing forces with Tom and Shel­don, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have made them­selves the major­i­ty par­ty in the Sen­ate. The vot­ers did not elect a Repub­li­can major­i­ty to the Sen­ate in 2012. The Repub­li­cans have, instead, engi­neered a major­i­ty by reclaim­ing Rod­ney Tom and adding long­time rene­gade Tim Shel­don to their ranks.

The Repub­li­cans are not dis­solv­ing in favor of a brand new cau­cus led by Rod­ney Tom. Rather, the Repub­li­can cau­cus is allow­ing Rod­ney Tom to be their leader, and allow­ing Tim Shel­don to stand behind the ros­trum when Brad Owen is not around.

Tom and Shel­don have both said they don’t intend to leave the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. But in join­ing the Repub­li­can Par­ty, they have left the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. They can hard­ly expect to be con­sid­ered Democ­rats when they are cau­cus­ing with Repub­li­cans. Tom and Shel­don can say they’re Democ­rats, but that does­n’t make them Democ­rats. Actions speak loud­er than words.

Tom and Shel­don are try­ing to cast them­selves as coura­geous bridge-builders and pro­mot­ers of coop­er­a­tion. In real­i­ty, they are opportunists.

And an oppor­tunist is the worst kind of politi­cian there is.

There is noth­ing vir­tu­ous about this coup (and it is a coup). It was plot­ted behind closed doors with­out pub­lic input or pub­lic hear­ings. Sen­ate Democ­rats were not con­sult­ed about the com­mit­tee struc­ture or oth­er details. House Democ­rats are not a par­ty to the deal. And Gov­er­nor-elect Inslee is not either. The Sen­ate does not have the abil­i­ty to pass bud­gets or make laws on its own.

I lis­tened to Tom answer ques­tions from reporters at today’s press con­fer­ence and it was evi­dent from his tone that he con­sid­ers him­self part of the Repub­li­can cau­cus now. Asked whether he would be cau­cus­ing with Repub­li­cans, he respond­ed, “There’ll be a major­i­ty coali­tion cau­cus and a minor­i­ty cau­cus… I will be cau­cus­ing with the majority.”

In oth­er words, Tom will be cau­cus­ing with the Repub­li­cans… and hop­ing Democ­rats won’t be too upset with him. “We expect to work with them,” he told reporters. I not­ed — and you should too — that he referred to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus, now led by Ed Mur­ray, as them. Which, of course, makes sense. Tom may not have con­scious­ly intend­ed to use those words… he was not read­ing from a pre­pared state­ment. He was speak­ing off the top of his head. And it’s evi­dent he does­n’t con­sid­er him­self part of the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus anymore.

Nei­ther does Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair Dwight Pelz, who issued this state­ment not long after the announce­ment was made:

In 2010, Sen­a­tors Tom and Shel­don stood for reelec­tion as Democ­rats. In the case of Sen­a­tor Tom, he even accept­ed over $25,000 in con­tri­bu­tions from the State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. But today, Sen­a­tors Tom and Shel­don turned their backs on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty by sid­ing with a rad­i­cal­ly right Repub­li­can cau­cus that ear­li­er this year attempt­ed to slash crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant fund­ing for edu­ca­tion and social ser­vices for the elder­ly and the vulnerable.

To imply that the cur­rent Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus is unwill­ing to work across par­ty lines to move our state for­ward is absurd. Just two years ago, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Ed Mur­ray and Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Joe Zarel­li worked togeth­er to build a bipar­ti­san bud­get – an unprece­dent­ed show of uni­ty in Olympia.

The truth here is that Sen­a­tor Tom has insti­gat­ed this unprece­dent­ed coup and joined with Repub­li­cans to install him­self as Major­i­ty Leader out of a desire to fur­ther his own per­son­al ambi­tions, not out of what is in the best inter­ests of his con­stituents or the pub­lic at large. What he announced today is a pre­scrip­tion for insta­bil­i­ty and division.

Ed Mur­ray, mean­while, react­ed cold­ly to the Repub­li­cans’ announcement.

“We rec­og­nize that any major­i­ty in the Sen­ate will be an unsta­ble one, and we are com­mit­ted to form­ing a mutu­al­ly agreed-upon way for Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats to work togeth­er,” he said. “We don’t believe the Repub­li­cans’ take-it-or-leave-it plan offers the right way for­ward. We remain hope­ful that Repub­li­cans will be open to nego­ti­a­tions to ensure the full func­tion­ing of the Senate.”

Sen­a­tor Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who rep­re­sents the neigh­bor­ing 36th Dis­trict, issued her own response. She did not mince words.

“Forc­ing half the cham­ber to accept a take-it-or-leave-it plan is not the way you fos­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion, trust or respect,” Kohl-Welles said.

“That’s a recipe for con­fronta­tion, not col­lab­o­ra­tion — and it bears lit­tle resem­blance to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples I believe my con­stituents in the 36th Dis­trict and peo­ple across the state expect leg­is­la­tors to uphold.”

Tom and Shel­don sug­gest­ed to reporters that oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors might join with them in aban­don­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus in the com­ing days and weeks.

But no one else was mas­querad­ing as a Demo­c­rat at today’s press con­fer­ence in the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Tom and Shel­don, their for­mer turn­coat pal Jim Kas­ta­ma (who helped Repub­li­cans rush a bud­get through the state Sen­ate back in the spring) is on his way out of the Legislature.

Vot­ers replaced Kas­ta­ma with a real Repub­li­can — Bruce Dammeier.

The major­i­ty the Repub­li­cans have engi­neered is incred­i­bly ten­u­ous. To con­trol the floor, they need every sin­gle mem­ber of their cau­cus to be in the Sen­ate cham­ber and avail­able to vote when­ev­er the Sen­ate is in ses­sion — along with de fac­to Repub­li­cans Shel­don and Tom. If just one Repub­li­can is miss­ing, it means Repub­li­cans do not have the twen­ty-five votes required to pass legislation.

In the event of a tie, the Con­sti­tu­tion allows the Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor to cast a vote. There may well be times dur­ing the upcom­ing ses­sion when there is a tie, and that will mean that Brad Owen will get a vote. Owen has his­tor­i­cal­ly worked well with Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Lisa Brown, and once helped Brown out of a jam dur­ing the 2009 ses­sion. (The Sen­ate dead­locked on SB 5433; Owen gave Brown the twen­ty-fifth vote she need­ed to get the bill passed). That could give Ed Mur­ray and his cau­cus oppor­tu­ni­ties to tem­porar­i­ly take back power.

Inci­den­tal­ly, one of the Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who signed the pow­er-shar­ing agree­ment — Bob Mor­ton — is actu­al­ly plan­ning to resign just after the new year. Mor­ton’s suc­ces­sor will be a Repub­li­can because he is, and pre­sum­ably that new sen­a­tor will be duly sent to Olympia pri­or to the first day of ses­sion so that Repub­li­cans won’t be a vote short of twenty-five.

Jim Cam­den has the details on the process for fill­ing the vacan­cy and who has expressed inter­est in being named as the next sen­a­tor from the 7th District.

Democ­rats, mean­while, have to choose a suc­ces­sor for Derek Kilmer, who is leav­ing the state Sen­ate to join the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the Oth­er Washington.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “Republicans seize control of state Senate with the help of Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon”

  1. Tom is turn­ing into a man with­out a coun­try. Wash­ing­ton has had sev­er­al inci­dents of politi­cians switch­ing par­ties, but this is the first time I’ve heard of one try­ing to sab­o­tage the par­ty that he is switch­ing to.

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