THE 2012 GENERAL ELECTION made at least this clear: Washington voters wanted Democrats, and not Republicans, leading the State. A Democrat was elected to every executive position, except one (Secretary of State), including Governor, Attorney General, and U.S. Senator. And voters reelected enough Democrats to the State Senate to ensure the party’s control. It was, for the Democrats, a sweep.
And yet the Democratic turncoat Rodney Tom took it upon himself to ignore the voters and instead hand control of the Senate over to Republicans. Tom, a Senator from the 48th Legislative District, which includes Bellevue, and Tim Sheldon, Senator from the 35th Legislative District, joined Senate Republicans to establish what they are calling, rather misleadingly, a “majority coalition caucus.”
Now, Republicans control the Senate with 25 members to the Democrats’ 24 members. As a result, Tom will be the Senate’s majority leader, while Sheldon will be the President Pro Tempore (a position that presides over the Senate in the Lieutenant Governor’s absence). And as Senate majority leader, Tom wields great power: he appoints the chair of different committees and also controls the Senate’s schedule.
Tom’s actions offend more than just the voters’ will; his actions offend the base level obligation of an elected official. I am devoutly of the opinion that elected officials should unabashedly place the interests of their constituents over their own; elected officials, after all, are elected to serve the public and not to serve themselves. But Tom disregarded the fact that in 2010 voters reelected him as a Democrat who promised to fight for and uphold the Democratic Party’s progressive values.
The rationale for Tom’s betrayal is apparent: in 2010, Republicans spent nearly $1 million trying to unseat him. It was likely the case that Republicans would take aim at Tom again in 2014. But now Tom has pacified his otherwise Republican challengers and so has dodged what would have been a conservative firing squad. And the Republican money that would have been spent to defeat him will now likely fill his coffers. Put another way, Tom chose to protect his own longevity as an elected politician at the expense of the majority of his voting constituency.
What is most sad about Tom’s about-face is, I think, this: momentum toward comprehensive gun control reformation is finally gaining traction. And yet as Senate majority leader, Tom will more than likely do whatever he can, in a further attempt to appease his now conservative base, to stifle whatever sorely needed gun control changes are proposed, including a possible assault weapons ban.
Trent Latta is an attorney and he lives in Kirkland. He can be reached at TrentLatta@gmail.com.