NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Rodney Tom, majority leader of Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, claims Lisa Brown’s office

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

David Gold­stein has post­ed the same list on Slog.

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.

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3 Comments

  1. The Seat­tle Times report­ed that Rod­ney Tom want­ed to inves­ti­gate Mark Mul­let’s cam­paign because of Cheryl Pflug’s endorse­ment of Mul­let after she took the job in the Gre­goire Admin­is­tra­tion. It was dur­ing the cam­paign and since it has been a real uphill bat­tle to get a Demo­c­rat elect­ed here in the 5th LD, the com­ments did not sit well with me.

    # by Mike Barer :: December 12th, 2012 at 5:58 AM
  2. And yet sites like Pub­li­Co­la go afte sen­a­tors like Hobbs and Hat­field who stayed with their cau­cus. Is the Seat­tle media try­ing to make cer­tain that the Repub­li­cans have work­ing con­trol of the Sen­ate? It would be hard to do a bet­ter job of it if they tried.

    # by S. Nelson :: December 12th, 2012 at 5:45 PM
  3. Loy­al­ty and trust are still very impor­tant to get­ting busi­ness done. Tom has betrayed all Dems who vot­ed for him and should suf­fer imme­di­ate con­se­quences.

    # by Dewain Savage :: December 13th, 2012 at 9:10 AM

One Ping

  1. […] There is noth­ing bipar­ti­san about the major­i­ty that Tom and Shel­don have helped engi­neer. By join­ing the Repub­li­cans, they have left the Democ­rats. […]