The Democrats maintained their majority in the state senate this election, but how much power they will really have comes down to who wins the race between Democratic challenger Rep. Tim Probst (D-17, Vancouver) and incumbent Republican Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver). Currently, Benton leads by 110 votes with still more ballots to be counted. But with such a tight margin a re-count is likely.
"People don't elect parties, they elect people."—Rodney Tom
If Probst eventually loses, conservative Democrats—Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Bellevue) and Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch)—could capsize the party's 26-23 advantage, giving the Republicans two extra votes on key issues, for a 25-24 GOP advantage. It’s happened before, famously, when the Republicans used conservative Democrats such as Tom to stage a budget coup earlier this year.
That means Sen. Tom could be the most powerful man in Olympia next year.
Indeed, Sen. Tom and his conservative Democratic ally Sen. Sheldon told the Tacoma News Tribune they want to enforce a power-sharing agreement, putting committee and leadership votes up to a real floor vote rather than letting the nominal majority party decide.
Today’s One Question for Sen. Tom is: Since the public voted for a Democratic governor and a Democratic house and senate, isn’t that a mandate for Democratic leadership?
Here’s what Tom—who has gotten nearly $200,000 in contributions from the Democratic Party and the caucus' political committee since switching parties in 2006 and running in two elections as a Democrat now—told us:
“In the senate it’s either 27-22 or 26-23. I don’t think it’s a body that demonstrates a mandate. If you look at the state, they like us Democrats because they like our policies but they don’t trust us with their money.
"Look at [Tim Eyman's initiative] 1185 [which requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes]. It passed by 64 percent. On the advisory votes to tax big oil and big banks, people said, 'No, don’t do those things.'
[In advisory votes on the bank loophole repeal and taxing big oil, voters overwhelmingly disagreed with the legislature.—Editors]
"In order to make this thing work, we’re going to have to get the Republicans involved early."
"That’s the surprise. When people say don’t tax big bank and big oil but they pass 1185 by 64 percent, it’s clear they want to streamline government. If you get everybody in a pool and it’s 'rah, rah, rah,' its not a healthy environment. I don’t see 25 votes in our caucus to get a budget. There are a good number of liberals in [the Democratic] caucus and a handful more fiscally rational members, and you’re not going to get that consensus. In order to make this thing work we’re going to have to get the Republicans involved early.
"People don’t elect parties, they elect people. This is about getting the parties out of the way. It's time to get over the politics and start governing. No one party has all the answers. Rob [McKenna] still got 48 percent of the votes. There’s that many that think the other side does a better job than we do.
"I think [we should discuss] the issues and run from a philosophical majority instead of a caucus majority."
"I don’t think so many of these issues are based on party. I think [we should discuss] the issues and run from a philosophical majority instead of a caucus majority. When you have an issue and you won't bring it up because of party politics, people are tired of that and they should be.
"It’s time to get past that. [Power sharing] gets some of the divisiveness out of politics. I think for a bill to pass it should have several members from the other side that you didn’t get, buying in; I think that’s good legislation.”