NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Rodney Tom ends reelection bid; fallout will reshape the 2014 electoral landscape in WA

Democ­rats across Wash­ing­ton who have been long­ing for an end to the Rod­ney Tom error in Ever­green State pol­i­tics got their wish ful­filled today with the unex­pect­ed news that Tom is drop­ping his reelec­tion bid to care for his injured father and spend more time with his family.

Tom, fifty, is the Major­i­ty Leader in Name Only of the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate. He began his career in the Leg­is­la­ture over ten years ago, win­ning elec­tion to the state House twice as a Repub­li­can. In ear­ly 2006, Tom aban­doned the Repub­li­cans and became a Demo­c­rat, announc­ing that he would run for Sen­ate against then-incum­bent Sen­a­tor Luke Ess­er, also a Republican.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty estab­lish­ment embraced Tom and with­drew its sup­port for its own can­di­date, Debi Gold­en, believ­ing Tom’s chances of win­ning to be bet­ter than Gold­en’s. It was a deci­sion the par­ty estab­lish­ment would come to regret.

Tom eas­i­ly defeat­ed Ess­er and moved from the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cau­cus to the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cau­cus. In 2010, Tom was chal­lenged by wealthy Repub­li­can Gregg Ben­nett for reelec­tion, but with the help of the state, coun­ty, and 48th Dis­trict Demo­c­ra­t­ic orga­ni­za­tions, he won reelec­tion for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive term.

Two years ago, in the spring of 2012, Tom and his col­leagues Jim Kas­ta­ma and Tim Shel­don aban­doned the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus and helped Repub­li­cans seize con­trol of the floor of the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate using a par­lia­men­tary maneu­ver known as the Ninth Order. The trio pro­vid­ed Repub­li­cans with the votes to adopt an irre­spon­si­ble sup­ple­men­tal bud­get and pre­vent sev­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties, includ­ing the Repro­duc­tive Par­i­ty Act, from receiv­ing a vote.

Kas­ta­ma, the only one of the trio up for elec­tion that year, chose to leave the state Sen­ate to run for Sec­re­tary of State. He came in fourth in the win­now­ing elec­tion, well behind Repub­li­can fron­trun­ner Kim Wyman, Demo­c­ra­t­ic fron­trun­ner Kath­leen Drew, and for­mer Seat­tle May­or Greg Nick­els. The Repub­li­cans cap­tured his Sen­ate seat lat­er that year in the gen­er­al election.

Fol­low­ing the elec­tion, Tom and Shel­don bro­kered a deal with the Repub­li­cans to seize con­trol of the state Sen­ate for the 2013 and 2014 ses­sions. Tom became the Major­i­ty Leader and Shel­don became the Pres­i­dent Pro Tempore.

The Repub­li­cans, mean­while, took over near­ly all of the com­mit­tee chair­man­ships and restruc­tured the Sen­ate’s com­mit­tees to their liking.

Tom and Shel­don con­tin­ued to call them­selves Democ­rats, but the par­ty dis­avowed them and began work­ing for their defeat. The Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty launched a Retire Rod­ney Tom Project, and the 48th Dis­trict Democ­rats passed a res­o­lu­tion mak­ing Tom inel­i­gi­ble for their sup­port in 2014.

In Jan­u­ary, for­mer Kirk­land May­or Joan McBride declared against Tom, and the fol­low­ing month, Democ­rats found a can­di­date to run against Tim Shel­don… Irene Bowl­ing, who announced her can­di­da­cy at the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s annu­al Crab Feed in Lacey, which is held every Pres­i­dents Day.

McBride has been rais­ing mon­ey at a fast clip, the sec­ond most of any chal­lenger in the state. The con­test between her and Tom was shap­ing up to be an epic fight.

But now it will not take place.

In retir­ing, Tom has dealt the Repub­li­can Par­ty a major blow and bol­stered Democ­rats’ hopes of retak­ing the state Sen­ate. The 48th LD is per­haps the most Demo­c­ra­t­ic of the state’s sub­ur­ban leg­isla­tive dis­tricts. And since the redis­trict­ing of 2011, it has become bluer still, vot­ing almost exclu­sive­ly for Democrats.

In 2012, this became very evi­dent when Ross Hunter and Cyrus Habib won their state House races by dou­ble-dig­it spreads. Habib, a first time can­di­date, dis­patched Repub­li­can Hank Myers — a Red­mond City Coun­cilmem­ber! — with aston­ish­ing ease. His mas­sive blowout vic­to­ry shows that the 48th is now a solid­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic district.

With Tom gone, the way is now clear for either Hunter or Habib to run. One of them like­ly will declare for state Sen­ate, and Joan McBride will then be well posi­tioned to run for whichev­er House seat then opens up. The Wash­ing­ton Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cam­paign (WSDC) would undoubt­ed­ly pre­fer to have a proven win­ner as its can­di­date, so it can direct mon­ey and resources into oth­er districts.

Last month, Repub­li­cans shook up the elec­toral land­scape by recruit­ing Mark Milos­cia to run for Sen­ate in the 30th as a Repub­li­can. Milos­ci­a’s entry into the race prompt­ed incum­bent Demo­c­rat Tracey Eide to announce her retire­ment, leav­ing Democ­rats scram­bling. (The par­ty estab­lish­ment ulti­mate­ly recruit­ed Shari Song, who unsuc­cess­ful­ly chal­lenged Rea­gan Dunn last year, to run against Miloscia).

Now Repub­li­cans are the ones left scram­bling. They have no can­di­date in the 48th and will need to find one in a hur­ry. But regard­less of who they find, they are like­ly going to be going up against a Demo­c­rat who has won in the dis­trict before and has plen­ty of name recog­ni­tion. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty would be heav­i­ly favored to win in the 48th with either Habib or Hunter as the stan­dard bear­er for Senate.

Even McBride would have an advan­tage, giv­en the dis­tric­t’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic makeup.

That means that even if the par­ty los­es Eide’s seat, it only has to win in two oth­er dis­tricts to regain the major­i­ty. And the par­ty has stel­lar can­di­dates run­ning against incum­bent Repub­li­cans Andy Hill (45th LD: Redmond/Kirkland/Woodinville) and Steve O’Ban (28th LD: Sub­ur­ban Pierce Coun­ty)… Matt Isen­how­er and Tami Green. Democ­rats are also chal­leng­ing Michael Baum­gart­ner in the 6th (Spokane area) with Rich Cow­an and Jan Angel in the 26th (Kit­sap Penin­su­la) with Judy Arbogast.

Tom chose to break the news of his retire­ment by email to his col­leagues. Here is the text of what he sent to oth­er mem­bers of the Sen­ate Repub­li­can caucus:

I want­ed to let you know I will not be run­ning for re-elec­tion to the state sen­ate this year. A sequence of events just make this the right deci­sion for me. I’m still work­ing through some health issue relat­ed to my kid­ney stones adven­ture that I had at the end of ses­sion. The final straw was on this past Thurs­day, my 85 year old father was hit by a car while walk­ing in the gro­cery store park­ing lot (in a cross­walk with his cane). It broke his femur, as well as dam­ag­ing his hip. He’s going to require a lot of phys­i­cal ther­a­py over the next sev­er­al months, and I’m his only son that lives in the area. I have always said that health and fam­i­ly are my num­ber one val­ues, and instead of that being mere­ly a cam­paign slo­gan, I real­ly do try to live by them.

It has been an incred­i­ble hon­or to serve in the Leg­is­la­ture these past 12 years, espe­cial­ly these last two years work­ing with the Major­i­ty Coali­tion Cau­cus (MCC). It has been a thrill of a life­time work­ing with all of you (well, most of you!). I real­ly do believe we did an amaz­ing job for the cit­i­zens of Wash­ing­ton state these past two years in focus­ing on jobs and the econ­o­my, cre­at­ing a great edu­ca­tion sys­tem for all of Wash­ing­ton from pre‑K to our col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, all while main­tain­ing a sus­tain­able bud­get that empow­ers our economy.

I wish you all the best of luck in the future, you’re an amaz­ing­ly tal­ent­ed group of indi­vid­u­als. I hope you stay true to the core prin­ci­ples of the MCC, and leave the social and oth­er divi­sive issues aside. If you stay focused on what real­ly mat­ters in dri­ving our econ­o­my for­ward, the cit­i­zens of this state will be well served. 

Empha­sis is mine. Tom’s flow­ery lan­guage is unlike­ly to endear him to his Repub­li­can pals. They had count­ed on Tom being able to at least keep the 48th in play. But now that dis­trict is very like­ly to be in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic win col­umn this Novem­ber. The mon­ey that was going to be spent against Tom will now be freed up for cam­paigns else­where, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the 45th and the 28th.

In a state­ment released this after­noon, Joan McBride indi­cat­ed she’s ready for what­ev­er may hap­pen in the wake of Tom’s announcement.

The announce­ment this morn­ing from Rod­ney Tom came as a sur­prise, and I wish him, and his ail­ing father, only the best.

But his depar­ture only under­scores what I have heard for weeks on the cam­paign trail:  vot­ers in the 48th ready for new lead­er­ship, con­sis­tent with our East­side pri­or­i­ties, and reflect­ing our pro­gres­sive social values.

I’m proud of the cam­paign we have run so far, knock­ing on thou­sands of doors and rais­ing near­ly $100,000. I’ll con­tin­ue to work hard to build the con­fi­dence of the vot­ers in the 48th, and look for­ward to the next stage of the campaign.

The fall­out from this retire­ment can­not be under­stat­ed. The elec­toral land­scape has just shift­ed in a big way. Repub­li­cans thought they had improved their chances by putting Tracey Eide’s seat in play with Mark Milos­cia (who real­ly is an odd recruit; he has pro­gres­sive views on many eco­nom­ic issues). But Rod­ney Tom, the man they thought they had a deal with, has just gone and reset the map. Now Democ­rats just need to pick up two seats to get the major­i­ty… or one, if they hold the 30th.

Over the course of his polit­i­cal career, Rod­ney Tom has shown that he’s not a team play­er. Nei­ther Democ­rats nor Repub­li­cans have any rea­son to trust Tom, who has proved him­self to be an arro­gant oppor­tunist. He scored a big cor­ner office and a nice title when he and Tim Shel­don made a deal with Repub­li­cans to seize pow­er in 2012. But he got more than he bar­gained for when he rejoined his for­mer par­ty that year… as even he admits in his own retire­ment announce­ment. He nom­i­nal­ly pre­sides over a cau­cus that can’t agree with itself on issue after issue.

It’s fit­ting that Tom’s career is end­ing this way. He is the only man to have been a part of all four of the state Leg­is­la­ture’s cau­cus­es… and now, with his retire­ment, he has jilt­ed three of them (the House Repub­li­cans, the Sen­ate Democ­rats, and the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans). Tom may be retir­ing for very good rea­sons (fam­i­ly should come first) but that’s not going to make Sen­ate Repub­li­cans feel any bet­ter. He had hired a cam­paign man­ag­er — for­mer Repub­li­can com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor Kei­th Schip­per — and he was plan­ning to seek reelec­tion. But now he’s out.

It’s a good day for Wash­ing­ton State.

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  1. This is great news. How­ev­er, shame on any­one who sug­gests that Joan McBride sim­ply step aside and run for one of the House seats that might open up. That is an absolute insult to McBride… the only per­son in the 48th with a spine (as well as expe­ri­ence & integri­ty) to chal­lenge Rod­ney Tom while he held the seat. With Rod­ney’s announce­ment, I sup­port McBride more than ever. Joan is the pro­gres­sive can­di­date run­ning in the 48th.

    Edi­tor’s note: This com­ment has been edit­ed to com­ply with NPI’s Com­ment­ing Guidelines.

    # by Lisa :: April 14th, 2014 at 8:29 PM
  2. Best Passover gift yet.

    # by Mike Barer :: April 14th, 2014 at 9:22 PM
  3. I also linked to this post on BOMV.

    # by Mike Barer :: April 15th, 2014 at 9:22 PM
  4. Any Social­ists run­ning for any leg­isla­tive seats? The Sawant cam­paign can be repli­cat­ed in major­i­ty-minor­i­ty dis­tricts in Washington.

    Edi­tor’s note: This com­menter’s pseu­do­nym has been cho­sen by NPI.

    # by Stonecat :: April 16th, 2014 at 9:53 AM
  5. It seems very unlike­ly that either Rep. Habib or Hunter would run for Sen­ate after both have endorsed McBride. She’s going to do just fine.

    # by wub :: April 16th, 2014 at 2:06 PM
    • Unlike­ly? Cir­cum­stances changed with the retire­ment of Rod­ney Tom. 

      Cyrus Habib is now run­ning for Sen­ate and Joan McBride is run­ning for his House seat.

      # by Andrew :: April 23rd, 2014 at 12:45 AM

One Ping

  1. […] Now that Rod­ney Tom isn’t run­ning for office, Andrew at NPI has some spec­u­la­tion about the seat. […]

    Ping from HorsesAss.Org » What Next For The 48th :: April 15th, 2014 at 7:58 AM
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