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Rodney Tom hears from constituents about party 'defection'

Some applauded in agreement with a man questioning the Democratic state senator's alliance with Republicans. But others didn't seem concerned.
Sen. Rodney Tom, left, talks with a constituent, Brett Hill of Bellevue, in January shortly after engineering a Republican-led coalition's takeover of the state Senate.

Sen. Rodney Tom, left, talks with a constituent, Brett Hill of Bellevue, in January shortly after engineering a Republican-led coalition's takeover of the state Senate. John Stang

Democratic defector Rodney Tom

Democratic defector Rodney Tom John Stang

Brett Hill voted for Democrat Rodney Tom for state senator from Bellevue in 2010 — before Tom joined forces with Republicans to take control of the Senate.

"Who here thinks that is a fairly crappy thing to do?" Hill asked roughly 100 people at a 48th Legislative District town hall meeting in Bellevue held by Tom plus Reps. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Cyrus Habib, D-Bellevue.

About half of the crowd clapped.

Last month, the centrist Tom and maverick Democrat Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, joined 23 Republicans to form a "majority coalition" to take control of the Senate from the previously majority Democrats. The majority coalition has 25 votes to 24 Democrats who remained with their caucus. The 25 senators in the alliance have named Tom as majority leader.

That move puts Tom, Sheldon and the Republicans in charge of most of the flow of bills in the Senate, and will set up a budget showdown with the philosophically different Democrat-controlled House. House Democrats will likely seek tax increases to tackle a $2.5 billion to $3 billion budget shortfall. The Republican-oriented Senate — including Tom and Sheldon — opposes any new taxes.

"You ran as a Democrat and then created a coalition (with the Republicans). That's more of a defection to me. ... That is not transparency," Hil lof Bellevue said.

Tom defended his alliance with the Republicans, saying the Republicans are more fiscally responsible at this time. He noted that his district's voters strongly backed Barack Obama for president, Jay Inslee for  governor, legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, charter schools and a two-third legislative majority to raise taxes.

"These are all public positions I took. ... I think I represent this district pretty well," he said.

Tom added, "If you like it — great. If you don't like it, vote for someone else."

He said the Senate, which otherwise would have been led by Sen. Ed Murray, and the House led by Speaker Frank Chopp would have been dominated by two legislators from the same very liberal 43rd District in Seattle, criticizing that concentration of power.

When the town hall meeting — scheduled for two hours at Bellevue City Hall — looked like it would be dominated by Tom's alliance with the Republicans, everyone agreed to talk about other issues until the meeting was over, and then Tom would talk with constituents about the Olympia power struggle. About 15 people hung around Tom after the meeting, but only a few mentioned the coup.

Bellevue resident Gary Saaris asked, "Do you think your group of 25 can be effective?"

Tom replied: "If I believed the group of 25 would not be effective, I wouldn't have done it."

Charles Landau of Bellevue said, "You're a stand-up guy. I support you."

John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 12:47 a.m. Inappropriate

"Brett Hill voted for Democrat Rodney Tom for state senator from Bellevue — more than a month before Tom joined forces with Republicans to take control of the Senate."

Fyi John, Tom was not on the ballot in 2012 so this can't be true. He likely means he voted for him in 2010.

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 6:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Govern for The People, not The Party.

Thanks for standing up to the lock-step minions, Senator Tom.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 11:31 p.m. Inappropriate

So, in what way are the Republican Senators, Tom has allied himself with, not marching in lock step? None of those Republican Senators seem to be doing anything but toeing the Party line. There is no defection from the Party line by any of the Republican Senators.

I do not get your comment, it makes no sense.

jhande

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 7:56 a.m. Inappropriate

My error. Thanks for pointing it out. -- John Stang.

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Coup? The writer is immersed too deeply in partisan politics. Newspaper article after article stresses the importance of legislators working together and compromising. Stang missed the memo.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 3:44 p.m. Inappropriate

The writer didnt characterize this event effectively IMO. When I asked for a show of hands of who thought what Tom did was a good idea, about 20% of the room raised their hands. They are completely misled in my opinion but it was useful information. Then I asked who felt like it was inapproproate and 2/3 the the people raised their hands. I dont recall applause until I ended where I said that I felt it what he had done was completely wrong and I am actively working against him. Then at least half the people broke into applause.

His use of the term "coaltion" is simply a lie. 2 Democrats + all the republicans is not a bi-partisan coalition. It is a defection.

Rodney said after the meeting "I am not a Democrat or a Republican". In other words, he took the money, was happy to have the help but ran "internally" as an independent. He's now trying to sell this line BS about this great bi-partisan coaltion but my key question has yet to be asked or answered. After I brought up the issue - the topic was immedialty shut down for conversation and scuttled to "after hours" so I didnt have time to bring up further quetions as others were crowding in to get their time on other topics. Why in the world couldnt a bi-partisan coaltion be created with democrats in the majority? There is a lot more to say on this. Bottom line, he has taken it upon himself to subvert the will of the people to have a deomcratically controlled congress, and in the process, magically, became leader of the Senate. If it smells like a rat.....

BrettHill

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 4:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Tom: "These are all public positions I took. ... I think I represent this district pretty well," he said.

Tom added, "If you like it — great. If you don't like it, vote for someone else."

Oooooh-he sure sounds gutsy eh?

Many of his supporters would have likely voted for someone else if he had taken a public position that if elected as a Democrat he would throw power to the Republicans in favor of them in exchange for him to have a Senate position of authority and influence he couldn't achieve as a Democrat. A former Republican, now a Democrat empowering the Republicans this guy is lacking in integrity at the very least.

Gaylord

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 6:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I worked with Rodney Tom prior to his political career. I didn't know him well, and though of him as a quiet, nice guy.

But never would I have thought he'd be good in politics. However, I think he is basically honest, and we need more of that.

I don't think he has a particular ax to grind or any agenda that isn't mainstream. I haven't agreed with him on certain issues, but time will tell.

I could give a rats you know what about his labeling himself as R or D. It's really time to forget about parties anyway.

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 11:34 p.m. Inappropriate

The Republican Senators "give a rats you know what" about parties. Did Tom think about that?

jhande

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 10:02 a.m. Inappropriate

I vote for Democrats because I expect a certain way of thinking and of dealing with public issues. If I wanted a Republican approach to public issues, I'd vote for a Republican.

That the legislature has issues between Seattle Democrats and Democrats from other parts of the state is a separate issue.

Tom is a steroid-powered version of my own suburban scum, Bill Finkbeiner, who simply spit on those who elected him and went where the power was. Like Finkbeiner, Tom didn't seem to have any trouble being in the party that he was in when he got elected when that party was in power. And when it wasn't, he pulled a Benedict Arnold.

Tom could have run as a Republican, but knew that at best, he would be in an irrelevent party and at worst, have to find another line of work.

Goforride

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

I appreciate Sen. Tom's courageous leadership. I don't think that Mr. Hill's implication that Sen. Tom was covert in his intentions during the election, but rather that Sen. Tom is rejecting the partisan politics that threaten to dig us even deeper in our current budget shortfall. His position of fiscal conservatism with social liberalism is a reflection of our moral beliefs combined with our need to make hard choices financially.He could much more easily have toed the party line and kept everyone happy through another re-election, but he didn't. That's courage, and the desire to do what he thinks is needed. Go Tom!

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 11:36 p.m. Inappropriate

How is empowering one party over the other party "rejecting partisan politics"? It is not, is it?

jhande

Posted Sat, Jan 12, 1:24 p.m. Inappropriate

When it comes time for Mr. Tom to run for re-election, I hope he will run as an independent. We need more independence in Olympia. It would be great if more non-Seattle Democrats would loosen their allegiance to the taxaholic "progressives" of Seattle, who increasingly disdain anyone who works for a living or who is retired and trying to live on a fixed income.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Jan 13, 2:54 p.m. Inappropriate

If Tom had identified himself as an Independent, then I would have no opprobrium for his current actions. I dislike both the Democratic and Republican Parties; but I despise Tom's actions even more. Plus the punk is a bought and payed for Gates operative.

jhande

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 12:13 a.m. Inappropriate

NotFan/Mr G/whoever else you are, I'm a progressive who worked for more than 40 years, never made more than low wages, and is now living on Social Security. Stop your stereotyping.

sarah90

Posted Fri, Jan 11, 8:09 p.m. Inappropriate

To the writer:

"Last month, the centrist Tom...joined 23 Republicans to form a "majority coalition" to take control of the Senate..."

By using the term "centrist," you apply a label and make a judgment. This is outside the scope of what a good journalist does, and I encourage you to think carefully about whether this is how you want to write.

I am not a journalist, so am free if I wish to apply the label "slime-ball" to Mr. Tom--but such labelling on my part is in the domain of public comment, and not with the claim of neutral reportage.

Mr. Tom and his new Republican allies have been at pains to self-characterize their actions as "centrist" and in the interests of effective governance. The fact that Tom's betrayal upends the collective decision of the electorate, and that he immediately ascends to a position of great personal power and influence, will not go unnoticed or unremarked.

Seneca

Posted Sat, Jan 12, 1:21 p.m. Inappropriate

So the "progressives" packed a town hall meeting, like the tea party packed town hall meetings in 2009. I expect this to work as well for them as it did for the other guys.

NotFan

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