Since announc­ing on Mon­day that he has decid­ed to join with Tim Shel­don in engi­neer­ing a new Repub­li­can major­i­ty in the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate, Med­i­na’s Rod­ney Tom has been field­ing phone calls and emails from unhap­py Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­stituents in the 48th Dis­trict who have told him in no uncer­tain terms that they regard his actions as a betray­al of their trust.

Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair Dwight Pelz spoke for the par­ty’s grass­roots base when he declared, “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.”

Tom, of course, does­n’t see it that way.

Judg­ing by how Tom has cho­sen to respond to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and pro­gres­sive activists who have writ­ten in to him, it appears he has con­vinced him­self that he can con­tin­ue to belong to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty in the 48th Dis­trict while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly belong­ing to the Repub­li­can Par­ty on the Capi­tol Cam­pus in Olympia.

Those who decid­ed to express their dis­plea­sure with Tom by email have been get­ting a form let­ter in response. Tom does not dis­cuss the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of Repub­li­cans con­trol­ling the state Sen­ate in the let­ter (which is what Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists have said they are most upset about), but rather reels off his own goals for the bud­get and what he con­sid­ers to be his “rock sol­id” Demo­c­ra­t­ic credentials.

We know this because sev­er­al NPI sup­port­ers have been kind enough to for­ward on the replies they got from Tom, and we were able to com­pare them.

With the excep­tion of a few minor word changes in a cou­ple of places, the respons­es are iden­ti­cal, and demon­strate that Tom thinks he has more impor­tant things to do at the moment than reply indi­vid­u­al­ly to his con­stituents (like script his next moves in a back room with Republicans).

Since Tom has cho­sen to reply to his con­stituents in this man­ner, we might as well pub­lish and dis­cuss the form let­ter, for the ben­e­fit of every­one who has not had the time to send Tom a note but shares the sen­ti­ments of those who have.

I’ll take Tom’s response para­graph by para­graph, and offer thoughts in between.

Let’s start with Tom’s open­ing line:

Thank you for writ­ing to me regard­ing your [dismay]/[outrage] that I joined in form­ing a bipar­ti­san major­i­ty in the Senate.

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

Tom sub­con­scious­ly admit­ted as much when he referred to his Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues as “them” dur­ing his press con­fer­ence with top Repub­li­cans like Mark Schoesler last Mon­day. Of course, Tom wants the Repub­li­can major­i­ty he has engi­neered to be referred to and thought of as a bipar­ti­san major­i­ty, but that’s a fic­tion. Tom is a for­mer Repub­li­can and Tim Shel­don has always been a Repub­li­can at heart (Shel­don was a sup­port­er of George W. Bush dur­ing the Bush error).

Nev­er­the­less, Tom  — per­haps sens­ing that a sec­ond self-declared par­ty switch in six years would make him look the oppor­tunist he is — wants to be con­sid­ered a Demo­c­rat, not a born-again Republican.

I under­stand your sin­cere con­cern, and I want to be clear: I am a Demo­c­rat and I will remain a Demo­c­rat. I believe my cre­den­tials as a Demo­c­rat are rock sol­id. If you look at my stances through­out the years, I am a social­ly pro­gres­sive, fis­cal­ly pru­dent Demo­c­rat. I’ll com­pare my posi­tions on social issues with any mem­ber of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. I’ve always been 100 per­cent pro-choice; I have sup­port­ed the mar­riage equal­i­ty effort my entire ten years in the Leg­is­la­ture; I have been one of the strongest sup­port­ers in the Leg­is­la­ture for fam­i­ly plan­ning fund­ing; I was the prime spon­sor on the gun show loop­hole clo­sure leg­is­la­tion. At the fed­er­al lev­el I believe in the Buf­fet rule; that we need a more pro­gres­sive tax struc­ture and a much high­er fed­er­al estate tax, and that we’re spend­ing way too much on defense. I don’t know of any­one who would say those posi­tions come from the Repub­li­can platform.

Sen­a­tor Tom does not appear to under­stand what it means to be a Demo­c­rat. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic plat­form is not some laun­dry list of issue posi­tions or stances; it is a state­ment of val­ues and prin­ci­ples, with pol­i­cy direc­tions derived from the log­ic of those val­ues and prin­ci­ples. The par­ty does not demand that its can­di­dates and elect­ed lead­ers rigid­ly adhere to the platform.

How­ev­er, Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates are absolute­ly expect­ed to gov­ern as Democ­rats once elect­ed. A Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tor is expect­ed to work with oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors to advance Demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues and principles.

Rod­ney Tom is doing the opposite.

Actions speak loud­er than words. An elect­ed offi­cial’s record mat­ters more than his or her rhetoric. Rod­ney Tom can say he’s social­ly pro­gres­sive, but his pow­er grab jeop­ar­dizes the prospects of social­ly pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion like the Repro­duc­tive Par­i­ty Act — which might well have passed last ses­sion were it not for Tom, Shel­don, and the depart­ing Jim Kas­ta­ma, who con­spired with Repub­li­cans to give them the Sen­ate floor right before a cru­cial cut­off.

Had Tom cho­sen to stay in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus and work with his Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues, Ed Mur­ray would be the incom­ing major­i­ty leader, and Democ­rats would con­trol the Sen­ate’s com­mit­tees. But Tom want­ed pow­er, and he got it by ham­mer­ing out a back­room deal to engi­neer a Repub­li­can major­i­ty with fel­low rene­gade Tim Shel­don. What­ev­er his cre­den­tials as a Demo­c­rat were before, they’re not rel­e­vant now. What is rel­e­vant is what he has done.

Mov­ing on:

I also believe we need to be fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble, which means we can’t spend mon­ey we don’t have. George W. Bush was the most fis­cal­ly irre­spon­si­ble pres­i­dent in our nation’s his­to­ry, but that does­n’t give Democ­rats a license to fol­low his stu­pid­i­ty. As a coun­try, we are broke. The Simp­son-Bowles pro­pos­al at the fed­er­al lev­el is just a start; to pre­tend we’re not in a huge fis­cal hole is to be blind to real­i­ty. I believe we have a moral oblig­a­tion not to bur­den future gen­er­a­tions with our exces­sive spend­ing. George Wash­ing­ton said it best, “We should avoid ungen­er­ous­ly throw­ing upon pos­ter­i­ty the bur­dens that we our­selves ought to bear.” The Amer­i­can Dream is to leave a lega­cy where the next gen­er­a­tion is bet­ter off, not starved by our debts.

Speak­ing for myself, I am unaware of any Democ­rats who want to fol­low the bad exam­ple that George W. Bush set. With the help of Repub­li­cans in Con­gress, Bush slashed tax­es for the wealthy, invad­ed oth­er coun­tries with­out pay­ing for it, and award­ed plen­ty of lucra­tive no-bid con­tracts to the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex. We are still liv­ing with the excess­es of the Bush error.

But we are not broke. It is a mis­take to think of the Unit­ed States as anal­o­gous to a house­hold or even a cor­po­ra­tion (which can go broke or bank­rupt). Tom’s choice of words makes me think he does not under­stand macro­eco­nom­ics. As a coun­try, we cer­tain­ly have debt; how­ev­er, we also have the abil­i­ty to pay off our debt with­out gut­ting the pub­lic ser­vices we want and need.

Fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty is a pol­i­cy direc­tion the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty strong­ly sup­ports. But fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty does not mean aus­ter­i­ty. Aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment are actu­al­ly irre­spon­si­ble because they result in degrad­ed or destroyed pub­lic ser­vices and few­er jobs. We have an infra­struc­ture deficit in addi­tion to a finan­cial deficit, and we sim­ply can­not ignore that.

At the fed­er­al lev­el, we need to both invest in our future and get more con­trol over our debt, which spi­raled out of con­trol dur­ing the Bush error.

If Tom is so con­cerned about solv­ing our nation’s man­u­fac­tured fis­cal cri­sis, per­haps he should resign from his posi­tion and go to the Oth­er Wash­ing­ton to lob­by for what he thinks is right. Here in this Wash­ing­ton, we have a dif­fer­ent set of fis­cal prob­lems. We have a regres­sive, loop­hole-rid­den tax struc­ture that is com­plete­ly bro­ken. We are sore­ly in need of tax reform to ensure that we can fair­ly and amply fund the pub­lic ser­vices our state’s econ­o­my depends on.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Leg­is­la­ture, which Rod­ney Tom has been a part of for near­ly a decade, has resort­ed to back­fill­ing and gim­micks to bal­ance the bud­get, instead of address­ing the root caus­es of our fis­cal problems.

For exam­ple, in Novem­ber of 2007, Tom vot­ed with Democ­rats and fel­low Repub­li­cans in a one-day spe­cial ses­sion to rein­state Tim Eyman’s Ini­tia­tive 747 at the request of Gov­er­nor Chris Gre­goire. When the Supreme Court tossed I‑747 out as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, they gave the Leg­is­la­ture an oppor­tu­ni­ty to get to work on tax reform. But instead of mak­ing the most of that oppor­tu­ni­ty, the Leg­is­la­ture sim­ply reen­act­ed Eyman’s regres­sive ini­tia­tive.

Back to Tom’s reply:

By focus­ing on empow­er­ing mid­dle-class fam­i­lies, our coali­tion’s pri­or­i­ties are:

  1. Pro­vid­ing a vibrant econ­o­my, so we have a stronger job market.
  2. Pro­vid­ing a world-class edu­ca­tion sys­tem, so our stu­dents will have the skills and knowl­edge to com­pete in a glob­al, high-tech world.
  3. Mak­ing sure we have a sus­tain­able bud­get that lives with­in our means by pri­or­i­tiz­ing core gov­ern­ment functions.

This is mean­ing­less boil­er­plate. I’d wager that every­one elect­ed to the state­house in 2012 wants “a vibrant econ­o­my” and “a world-class edu­ca­tion sys­tem” and “a sus­tain­able bud­get”. The dev­il is in the details, as the say­ing goes. And this is where Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans diverge. Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates and Repub­li­cans may say sim­i­lar things on the cam­paign trail, but the log­ic of Democratic/progressive and Republican/conservative val­ues is very dif­fer­ent. To elab­o­rate a bit:

  • Democ­rats believe that broad pros­per­i­ty stems from pub­lic invest­ment. Wash­ing­ton is a great place to live, work, and do busi­ness because of its parks, schools, uni­ver­si­ties, first respon­ders, hos­pi­tals, and oth­er pub­lic ser­vices. The pub­lic infra­struc­ture paid for by the tax­pay­ers of this state and of the Unit­ed States is what makes our vibrant econ­o­my pos­si­ble. Repub­li­cans believe that gov­ern­ment is the prob­lem, that it already takes too much of our mon­ey, and that it should be drowned in a bath­tub, to para­phrase Grover Norquist (Tim Eyman’s role mod­el). Repub­li­cans want to wreck gov­ern­ment by elim­i­nat­ing or crip­pling vital pub­lic services.
  • Democ­rats believe that bud­gets are moral doc­u­ments, and that our state’s bud­get, when there is a short­fall, should be bal­anced by rais­ing rev­enue in addi­tion to find­ing sav­ings wher­ev­er pos­si­ble. Repub­li­cans see bud­get short­falls as oppor­tu­ni­ties to slash vital pub­lic ser­vices. Repub­li­cans also oppose rais­ing rev­enue or repeal­ing out­dat­ed, unnec­es­sary tax loop­holes in vir­tu­al­ly all cir­cum­stances. Many Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tors have signed Grover Norquist’s abso­lutist no new tax­es pledge.
  • Democ­rats have called for I‑960/I‑1053/I‑1185 to be struck down because it vio­lates our state Con­sti­tu­tion and unde­mo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly pre­vents the Leg­is­la­ture from oper­at­ing the way our founders intend­ed it to. Democ­rats want gov­ern­ment that works and a Leg­is­la­ture run by the many, not the few. The Repub­li­can Par­ty of Wash­ing­ton has sup­port­ed all of the afore­men­tioned ini­tia­tives and is now prepar­ing to sup­port Tim Eyman and Janea Holmquist New­bry in a push to put the two-thirds scheme for rais­ing rev­enue into the Con­sti­tu­tion by amend­ment. Iron­i­cal­ly, that will take a two-thirds vote of each house of the Leg­is­la­ture to do, and Repub­li­cans do not have the votes.

By strik­ing a deal to become Major­i­ty Leader in name only and put Repub­li­cans in con­trol of the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate, Rod­ney Tom has embraced the Repub­li­can agen­da and the con­ser­v­a­tive val­ues sys­tem that under­pins that agenda.

That is his choice. He should not be sur­prised that Democ­rats see his pow­er grab as act of betray­al. Because that is pre­cise­ly what it is.

I am very much focused on the end goal of what gets to the gov­er­nor’s desk, know­ing that we have a solid­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic House that has­n’t always been fis­cal­ly pru­dent. I believe it’s imper­a­tive that the Sen­ate lead the charge in com­ing out with a fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble bud­get, so that when we com­pro­mise between the House and Sen­ate, we don’t have the sum­ma­tion of two fis­cal­ly irre­spon­si­ble bud­gets, tak­ing us off the fis­cal cliff.

Speak­er Frank Chopp and mem­bers of his cau­cus would, I am sure, dis­pute Tom’s con­tention that “we have a solid­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic House that has­n’t always been fis­cal­ly pru­dent.” Speak­er Chopp has fought hard to save many vital pub­lic ser­vices from being evis­cer­at­ed and elim­i­nat­ed. His efforts in that regard have been hero­ic and noble, and deserve com­men­da­tion, not condemnation.

Speak­er Chopp and his cau­cus rec­og­nize that Wash­ing­ton must invest in its future. That is why Chopp and House Democ­rats have worked to com­ply with the McCleary deci­sion and save ser­vices like Apple Health or Dis­abil­i­ty Lifeline.

Rod­ney Tom, mean­while, has been obsessed with con­ser­v­a­tive schemes like liquor pri­va­ti­za­tion, which don’t save mon­ey or improve Wash­ing­ton’s qual­i­ty of life.

I would remind you that there was a lot of con­cern about my actions last ses­sion when we went to the Ninth Order in the Sen­ate to devel­op an alter­na­tive bud­get to the bud­get pro­posed by the Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty. In the end, the final bud­get vote was 44–2, unprece­dent­ed bipar­ti­san sup­port that showed we real­ly did move to mid­dle ground; that we could all agree to a bet­ter bud­get for tax­pay­ers and make sure that our most vul­ner­a­ble were pro­tect­ed. And we ful­ly fund­ed core gov­ern­ment services.

The Sen­ate did not go to the Ninth Order to devel­op an alter­na­tive bud­get, it went to the Ninth Order to pass an alter­na­tive bud­get that had been put togeth­er in a back room by Repub­li­cans with­out pub­lic input. That alter­na­tive bud­get got a frosty recep­tion in the state House.

In the end, con­trary to what Tom implies, the Leg­is­la­ture went home after pass­ing a final bud­get that more close­ly resem­bled the bud­get orig­i­nal­ly pro­posed by Ed Mur­ray and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty than the Repub­li­cans’ mid­night budget.

As David Gold­stein explained back in April:

Sen­ate Repub­li­can bud­get chief Joe Zarel­li’s $44 mil­lion of cuts from K‑12 and $30 mil­lion from high­er edu­ca­tion? Did­n’t hap­pen. Dis­abil­i­ty Life­line, the Alco­holism and Drug Addic­tion Treat­ment and Sup­port Act, Hous­ing and Essen­tial Needs, State Food Assis­tance, and oth­er social pro­grams Zarel­li sought to elim­i­nate? All fund­ed in the final bud­get at lev­els sim­i­lar to what Mur­ray had proposed.

The Dems’ pro­posed one-day delay in mak­ing a pay­ment to pub­lic school dis­tricts, well, that par­tic­u­lar account­ing maneu­ver was squashed, but then so was the Repub­li­cans’ pro­pos­al to skip a pay­ment to state pen­sion funds. Instead, much of the half bil­lion dol­lar rev­enue short­fall is made up with a dif­fer­ent account­ing trick, one which which keeps $238 mil­lion in local sales tax­es on the state’s books for 30 days, but with­out delay­ing the redis­tri­b­u­tion back to local jurisdictions.

Tom would like us all to think that the late night ses­sion he helped engi­neer back in March led to a bet­ter bud­get. In real­i­ty, all it did was gen­er­ate mis­trust and pro­long the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, wast­ing time and money.

Tom’s form let­ter end­ed with the following:

Thank you again for your note and your con­cern. I hope you have the patience to judge my efforts by what ends up on Gov­er­nor Inslee’s desk.

think Peace!

And what about the leg­is­la­tion that does­n’t end up on Gov­er­nor Inslee’s desk? Thanks to Rod­ney Tom, Repub­li­cans will be in a posi­tion to kill a lot of bills that would advance Democratic/progressive val­ues in the 2013 leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Extreme Repub­li­cans like Pam Roach and Mike Pad­den are already slat­ed to receive com­mit­tee chair­man­ships. That is what mat­ters more than any­thing else.

By team­ing up with Repub­li­cans to seize pow­er in the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate, Rod­ney Tom has turned his back on the donors, vol­un­teers, and vot­ers who elect­ed him in 2006 and 2010 and expect­ed him to gov­ern as a Demo­c­rat. By behav­ing like an oppor­tunist, he is invit­ing Wash­ing­to­ni­ans not to trust him.

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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4 replies on “Rodney Tom to constituents: “I believe my credentials as a Democrat are rock solid””

  1. Agreed. Despite all his pos­tur­ing, this is just a shame­less pow­er grab. He can say he tru­ly thinks he’s act­ing in the inter­est of vot­ers, but the vot­ers decid­ed already and they want­ed a Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture in Wash­ing­ton. It’s bla­tant­ly hyp­o­crit­i­cal to say that in the name of the peo­ple, you are act­ing to over­turn how they voted.

  2. The biggest prob­lem here is that Tom has tak­en a posi­tion con­trary those who worked so hard to elect him. What he is doing is con­trary to the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic plat­form and pos­si­bly con­trary to the bylaws of the 48th LD. Thus he can­not be con­sid­ered a Demo­c­rat and we should dis­con­tin­ue think­ing of him as our our candidate.

    (Com­ment edit­ed by NPI for grammar)

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