Rodney Tom should act like a Democrat or switch back to the GOP

(originally published at the Bellevue Reporter, in condensed form)

Anyone paying attention to the goings-on in Olympia would know that there’s nothing bipartisan about the Senate “majority coalition” under the leadership of Bellevue’s Sen. Rodney Tom.

Rodney Tom, a former Republican, is nominally a Democrat. But he’s been voting and speaking like a Republican.

Recently, when asked about the state Supreme Court’ mandate to increase funding for education, Tom said: “We should never have a conversation that we need new revenue for education.”  Yet despite our relatively high cost of living, Washington teachers earn $2,500 less than the national average and $12,000 less than their peers in West Coast states.  (source)  See also How much teachers get paid — state by state.

Tom and the Republicans are holding the transportation package, including funding for Metro buses, hostage to their demands.  They want to overturn the prevailing wage (more union busting), weaken environmental requirements for road projects, and exempt transportation projects from the sales tax (thus further starving the general fund).  And they won’t allow King County to institute a local funding option for Metro.

Nor will Tom and the Republicans close tax loopholes.

Come on, Tom!  Either act like a Democrat or return to the Republican Party where you belong.

On reinventing Democratic politics

At last night’s meeting of the 41st LD Democrats there was a discussion about how to attract more people to become PCOs and about how to get more existing PCOs to attend meetings and work on campaigns.

The discussion began with the question: what’s the purpose of the 41st LD Dems? One guy said: to elect Democrats. I replied: not just Democrats, but good Democrats; after all, Rodney Tom is a Democrat.

The discussion continued for almost and hour, with several people agreeing with me on the importance of supporting high-quality (progressive) candidates who are likely to defend our values (e.g., on economic fairness). Others were more interested in making the Democratic Party a “big tent”; such people thought the job of PCOs is to knock on doors, make phone calls, and pay their dues.

Most everyone agreed that the org should host interesting speakers and make newcomers feel more welcome.

I said: most people who get involved in the Democratic Party do so because they believe that the Party and its candidates are most likely to support the policies they favor. Very few people will want to become PCOs just so that they can elect Democrats as Democrats. In other words, people support the policies first and the party derivatively.

In fact, I’m sure a lot of people think both the GOP and the Dems are self-serving factions that do little to help them.

Chair Karol Brown spoke on the importance of politeness towards people with opposing views. I said I disagreed: I think good Democrats need to be more vocal and partisan about weeding out marginal and turncoat Democrats who often vote with Republicans. I said we need more accountability. Most people disagreed with me, some vehemently, but I think that if the  Democratic Party is going to thrive and recover its soul it needs to turn back to its ideals.

A lot of people in, say, Seattle, regard Eastside Dems as little better than Republicans. Perhaps that’s the best we can do over here given the realities of money and power.

Subsequent events at the meeting illustrated some of my points.

Bellevue City Council candidate Steve Kasner was at the meeting. He is behind Republican opponent Kevin Wallace by about 200 votes, out of about 29,000 validated ballots. Wallace has claimed victory, and Kasner is deciding whether to go ahead with the effort to chase ballots and pursue a recount. Wallace outspent Kasner two to one.

Rebecca Bryant, political director for US Congressman Adam Smith, came to speak briefly at the meeting, as she is wont to do. I sharply asked her why Rep. Smith endorsed Kevin Wallace. She apologized and said that Wallace and Smith had had some sort of past business relationship. Others in the room had worked very hard for Kasner — I too walked my precinct with him — and expressed their displeasure to Ms. Bryant. Someone said that Smith’s endorsement of Wallace probably was enough to cause Wallace to win.

Someone spoke critically to Ms. Bryant about Rep. Smith’s early strong support for the NDAA. Again, Ms. Bryant was apologetic. In recent years, Rep. Smith has made efforts to backtrack from his rather militaristic and reactionary support for defense spending and the security state.

For me, LD meetings are often boring and frustrating because of the (usually but not always useless) formality  — “Can I hear a motion to accept the minutes from the last meeting?” — and because of the ineffectiveness and unwillingness to promote progressive values and hold lawmakers accountable. As someone said, lawmakers welcome LDs’ help to get elected; thereafter, they show little interest and often ignore platforms and resolutions.

About 25 people showed up at the LD meeting out of about 101 PCOs — not bad for a post-election meeting in an odd year. Someone mentioned that the 48th LD meeting had only 11 people show up — which is sad, because the 48th LD will presumably be working to elect a replacement for Rodney Tom. I asked and apparently no candidate has yet emerged to challenge Tom in the primary.   Perhaps Tom will run as an Independent: it might actually help his candidacy.

A few months ago, the 41st LD elected Tana Senn as a replacement for departing State House member Marcie Maxwell. The meeting was filled with dozens of new PCOs — most of them specially recruited by candidates to vote for them in the election. Few of those new PCOs have returned.  One who did said she hadn’t felt welcomed when she first came.

As was pointed out at the meeting, many Democratic orgs are struggling. I personally know a lot of passionate Democrats (not to mention people further to the left) who no longer attend Party meetings or who have dropped out of working with lefty groups, because nothing gets accomplished or because they feel excluded.    People rarely work together; everyone wants to lead.  The King County Dems have been in disarray since the chairmanship was wrested from Steve Zemke by Karl de Jong; various vice-chairs and council members have resigned; some people circulated angry letters; experienced committee chairs were fired (because they were thought to be loyal to Zemke); and people complained of being ignored and mistreated.  Several of the 41st LD reps quit, including the 1st Vice-Chair, Sojna Rossman.

The State Dems are preparing to select a replacement for departing state chair Dwight Pelz. Discussions on facebook are similar to the 41st LD discussion about the purpose of the org. What sort of qualities should the party look for in a state chair? Is it enough that she or he be skillful at managing and fundraising? Or should he be chosen to support certain policies?

In Seattle, long time Democrat Richard Conlin lost to Kshama Sawant in a close race that has become nationally emblematic of the problems facing the Democratic Party. Conlin received the endorsement of numerous Democratic orgs but still lost.

I think the Dems should move to the left and promote populist and righteous policies such as economic justice. But they should not move so far to the left that they lose like they did in 1972 with McGovern. Bit by bit. Strategically.

Will progressives take back the party from the centrists? Will they be too polite and compliant, or too disorganized, to make the effort? Will the progressive and independents be willing to do the work required to fix the party? Can they do so and still win elections?

The left needs better messaging, so the voters stop voting against their own self-interest.

Can the establishment Dems welcome the progressives and disaffected independents?

Sen. Rodney Tom to be featured speaker at far-right WPC event

The far-right think tank Washington Policy Center has announced a Solutions Summit on November 12 featuring Democrat-in-Name-Only Senator Rodney Tom. “This half-day conference will kick off with a breakfast featuring Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom and Bob Moore of Moore Information.”

What a betrayal by a supposed Democrat.   It seems to me he shouldn’t be a Democrat.    I’d expect that Democratic primary voters would reject him next year.

King Rodney Tom installed as Senate Majority Leader

Cheer the Majority Coalition if you like ….

Enjoying the gridlock on I-405 and I-5?

Wanna see more bridges collapse, like the Skagit River Bridge did earlier this year?

Happy about the mentally deranged man who stabbed two people in Pioneer Square, killing one of them?  Or about the practice of “warehousing” mentally ill patients due to the lack of psychiatric beds in the state? (See The Seattle Times’  ‘Boarding’ mentally ill becoming epidemic in state).

Then you should cheer for the state Senate’s “Majority Coalition”, under the leadership of Bellevue’s own Democrat-In-Name-Only, Sen. Rodney Tom.

The gridlock and bridge collapse and stabbing and lack of treatment are perfect examples of the dangers of the Republican assault on government.

According to Annon Shoenfeld of the King County Mental Health Chemical Abuse and Dependency Service, the county has lost $30 million in funding in medical in last four year, despite increased demand.   And over the past six years the state has cut 250 psychiatric beds and more than $100 million in psychiatric funding.

Earlier this year the Senate rejected the House’s transportation package that would have funded roads and saved King County Metro bus routes.  Without extra funding for Metro, 20,000 – 30,000 extra cars will be on the road, and thousands of low income workers will struggle to get work.

At last week’s town hall forum on Transportation at Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, dozens of businessmen in fancy suits pleaded with state legislators to pass a transportation package that would allow employees to get to work and trucks to delivers the goods.  Dozens of local mayors and city council members offered similar testimony.

The Majority Coalition is demanding so-called “reforms” as a condition of their approval of a transportation package. They want to weaken environmental protections, lower prevailing wages requirements, and exempt transportation projects from the sales tax —  thereby starving the general fund of much-needed revenue).

Senate Republicans are also resisting a proposed 10 cent per gallon gas tax.  The current state gas tax of 37.5 cents hasn’t risen since 2008, when it rose 1.5 cents.  There isn’t enough money  to keep up with inflation and population increases.

And they proposed an “education first” budget that would starve social services.

But without government services, our economy and our social system won’t function.


October 14: Senate "Listening Tour" comes to Seattle

Seattle “Listening Tour” Stop

Monday, October 14, 6:00pm – 9:00 pm
King County Courthouse, Room 1001
10th Floor, 516 3rd Avenue, Seattle
* Transit Riders & Allies Rally outside at 5 pm *

Our Senators have been making their way around the state (starting with the Bellevue forum on September 17 where we gave Rodney Tom a piece of our mind! — see below) and at every stop so far they’ve heard the same message: pass a transportation package with transit funding already! In other words, people around the state are telling them to do exactly what they refused to do during the 2013 legislative session and the two agonizing special sessions this spring.

What are these Senators up to? Let’s be honest – it’s not really about listening to the people. The “Majority” Coalition Caucus (MCC) has an agenda, and it’s an unimaginative right-wing agenda at that: they want to “streamline” (i.e. gut) environmental reviews, privatize of our public services and resources, cut hard-working construction workers’ wages, and de-fund any mode of transportation other than driving cars.

This “listening tour” is designed to fabricate public support for a transportation package that aligns with their right-wing agenda – and then they plan to use our desperation for public transit funding to secure the support of the more progressive King County legislators.

All in all, it’s a dog-and-pony show – but nonetheless, we need to be there to speak out for public transit and to call out the MCC on their “reforms”. The Transit Riders Union and allies will be rallying outside the courthouse at 5pm, and if you want to sign up for public comment you may want to arrive even earlier. In fact, please RSVP if you plan to be there and want to give public comment, so we can keep you informed.

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We are proud to announce the publication of Issue #2 of the Transit Reader Newsletter. You can read the PDF version here, or come to our next Membership Meeting on Monday, October 7, 6:30 at the Labor Temple, to pick up a paper copy. Want to distribute the Transit Reader on your bus, or leave some at your neighborhood cafe or library? We’ll be happy to give you a stack — just get in touch.