Rodney Tom, the former Republican turned Democrat turned de facto Republican, admitted today while talking to the Capitol press corps that he’s “expecting” to take over current Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s corner office in the Legislative Building, even though he will be the chamber’s “majority leader” in name only.
Tom is evidently eager to get his hands on the trappings of power.
Tom and fellow Democrat-in-Name-Only Tim Sheldon announced at a press conference yesterday that they’re going to caucus with Senate Republicans for the next two years, but remain in the Democratic Party.
At least, that’s what they think. Neither man seems to understand that the Democratic Party now views them as Republicans.
They’ve chosen to caucus with Republicans, they’ve signed their names to a document embracing several Republican policy directions, and they’ve given Republicans control over the Senate’s committee structure and committees. That means they are no longer Democrats.
They’ve picked a side and made their beds, so to speak. Now they’ll have to live with the consequences.
In Tom’s case, the most important consequence is that he is guaranteed to face a credible Democratic opponent in 2014, backed by the Democratic Party. Tom’s district became even more Democratic than it already was after the Redistricting Commission finalized the state’s new district map nearly a year ago.
This November, the 48th voted for Democrats up and down the ticket by healthy margins, as the following list of results shows:
- 61.4% — Barack Obama (D), President
- 64.5% — Maria Cantwell (D), U.S. Senate
- 52.9% — Jay Inslee (D), Governor
- 55.8% — Bob Ferguson (D), Attorney General
- 51.8% — Kathleen Drew (D), Secretary of State
- 69.3% — Ross Hunter (D), State Representative — Position 1
- 61.4% — Cyrus Habib (D), State Representative — Position 2
Now, it’s true that the 48th is not as Democratic as the 43rd or the 36th. But the 48th is an area Rob McKenna used to represent on the King County Council, and its residents didn’t even vote for him for governor.
And consider this: The last time the 48th elected someone running as a Republican to the state Legislature was in 2004… when Rodney Tom won reelection to the state House of Representatives. It has been that long.
The voters have now sent Tom to the Senate twice… as a Democrat, with the expectation that he would govern as a Democrat.
But Tom is now planning to govern as a Republican. From the corner office that has been Lisa Brown’s since January of 2007.
Had Democrats not lost any seats, Tom and his pal Sheldon would not have been able to help Republicans engineer a majority, and they likely would have remained in the Democratic caucus because the Democrats would have been the majority party even without them. It’s better to be in the majority than the minority.
But now that the pair of them hold the cards, they’ve gone over to the Republicans, because the Republicans are willing to give them something the Democrats won’t: Power. Or at least the illusion of power.
What these guys are really getting is job titles. The Republicans are getting the influence. This is about power for them, too.
Yesterday, responding to Tom and Sheldon’s defections, Washington State Democratic Chair Dwight Pelz said in a statement: “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.”
Rodney Tom himself spiked the ball for Pelz’s response when he told reporters, “This is not about power… this is not about control.”
I watched the press conference, and had a good laugh when I heard that. In attempting to negate his critics’ framing of his actions, Tom (unintentionally) evoked that frame. He caused everyone listening to think about the words power and control. And, like I’ve been saying, that’s exactly what this is about. Power and control. It’s a power play. It’s politics.
Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon could easily collaborate with Republicans on occasion from the Democratic caucus if they wished. Aisle-crossing happens all of the time in a legislative body. But then, they wouldn’t be in charge. By forming an alliance with the Republicans, Tom gets to pretend to be the chamber’s majority leader and Tim Sheldon gets to fill in for Brad Owen when he’s away.
I say pretend to be majority leader because, as both David Goldstein and Andrew Garber observed today, Tom isn’t actually the leader of anyone except himself and Tim Sheldon. (And he may not even be Sheldon’s leader; Sheldon is a wild card).
Ed Murray remains the Senate Democrats’ leader, and Mark Schoesler, recently elected to succeed Mike Hewitt, made it clear today that he’s still the leader of the Republicans. Schoesler is not stepping back into the Republican ranks and letting Tom run the caucus; he is staying in charge.
Again, what Tom is getting under their deal is a title… the title of majority leader. He is not getting the clout that normally goes with it. He will not have his own caucus staff, or a party campaign committee like the SDCC or SRCC at his disposal.
Tom will need Schoesler and every one of Schoesler’s members to be around and on board all of the time — or he won’t have twenty-five votes.
The Democrats are fully aware of this, and Ed Murray signaled today when he spoke with The Stranger and The Seattle Times that he’s inclined to reject the Republicans’ offer to allow Democrats to run some committees. (The Democrats still have to meet to decide what they want to do. The “power-sharing” agreement the Republicans drew up was drafted without their input; it’s being presented to them as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal).
“I think it would be healthier for the institution if twenty-four of us are a strong minority influencing the process as a minority,” Murray told Times reporter Andrew Garber. “I think it would make for a better product in the end.”
Murray — and his colleagues — would be smart to reject the Republicans’ phony “power-sharing” proposal, and to keep Tom and Sheldon out of their caucus room.
The Republicans have seized power; but they want Democrats to join them in pretending that the Senate will be cooperatively run in a truly bipartisan fashion. Democrats should say no, and let Tom and Sheldon know they can’t have it both ways. If they wish to caucus with Republicans and govern as Republicans, they’ll be considered Republicans. Even if they don’t want call themselves Republicans.