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Anger over Democratic obstruction led Hanauer and others to fund the charter school initiative that passed last November against union opposition. In Seattle, being pro-union means you’re pro-education. Outside Seattle, it increasingly means the opposite. Danny Westneat, take note.
On the spending side, the Democratic leadership in both houses was using what Tom calls “Enron accounting” to create a patch quilt budget that kind of, theoretically, balanced. Pension reform? Forgetaboutit. The unions did grudgingly agree to pay 15 percent of the cost of their health plan, up from 12 percent. But most people in the private sector, if they have health insurance, pay about 25 percent. Tom came up with his own plan, dubbed "5-5-25" — a 5 percent reduction in the state workforce, a 5 percent salary reduction, plus workers paying 25 percent of their health plan. Eventually, he and two equally fed up Democratic colleagues joined the Republicans and took control of the budget process, forcing through a budget far different than what Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp would have passed. The center of gravity in Olympia was shifting.
It shifted again when the Republicans surprisingly gained another senate seat in last November’s elections. With the budget still under water, the stage was set for the historic vote that vaulted Tom into the Majority Leader’s spot earlier this month. It last happened 50 years ago when progressive Republicans, including Dan Evans and Slade Gorton, put their votes behind Democrat William (Big Daddy) Day to seize power in the state House. This was back in the era when politicians didn’t mind being called “Big Daddy”. But the House vote in ’63 was sprung on the majority Democrats at the last minute. In the Senate, the plan for a Majority Coalition was made public weeks before the organization vote. Several other Democrats, including senators from Federal Way and Lake Stevens, have now accepted chairmanships under the Majority Coalition plan.
Several of Tom’s critics insist that Washington voters want a liberal majority. But the voters last November didn’t vote liberal – they voted libertarian. Yes on legal marijuana and same-sex marriage, but also yes on charter schools, and (by 64 percent) to restore the two-thirds supermajority requirement to raise taxes. To make sure their point was heard, voters also scotched two tax increases affecting the banking and oil industries. When voters side with bankers and oil men against the government, that is a sign that new taxes aren't welcome from either party. Jay Inslee, who can read an electorate, campaigned not to raise them, and wisely reiterated that position after winning the governorship.
As the Senate slowly assembles a budget over the next few months, the senator calling the most important shots will be a Democrat who was busted down to Private by his own party three short years ago. It's bizarre that his critics call him an opportunist, because he picked a fight with his more liberal colleagues on principle, knowing he would be thrown off the leadership ladder in a state dominated by Democrats. Other critics call him inconsistent, but his views — not on parties certainly, but on issues — line up today with where they were when he entered politics. Today Rodney Tom, fiscally conservative, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, probably matches the basic views of the average Western Washington voter more accurately than any other legislator in the capitol.
Republicans on the west side of the mountains should study and learn from his example. Democrats, who love to point out that voters are repelled by the GOP’s stands on social issues, are turning off growing numbers of voters on fiscal and education issues, including at least two of their own senators. The Democrats think the new Majority Coalition is an anomaly. If they don’t change their priorities, it may be a trend.
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