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.
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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.

Some applauded in agreement with a man questioning the Democratic state senator's alliance with Republicans. But others didn't seem concerned.

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."


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8