In the fable of the scorpion and the frog, a frog (or tortoise) overcomes its misgivings and agrees to ferry a scorpion across a river after the scorpion persuasively notes that stinging the frog would cause both to sink and drown. Midway across, the scorpion stings the frog anyway, and, as they sink, the frog asks why. The scorpion’s response is that he can't help it—it is the nature of scorpions to sting.
And so it is with Senator Rodney Tom, the 48th District Republican-turned-nominal-Democrat. In 2006, despite the senate candidacy of Debi Golden (who nearly bested Tom in his 2004 re-election bid for state house, back when he was still officially a Republican), the party's powers-that-be decided they wanted Tom as the Democratic candidate and pressured Golden out of the senate race.
Some of us thought this was a bad idea. Upon Tom’s entry, Dean Nielsen of Progressive Majority warned, "The question is, do the voters prefer a Democrat or a warmed-over Republican?" Even after Golden withdrew, Nielsen said, "I think that she was the better candidate for the primary and the general, and I still think that."
Democrats said the obvious. One Democratic house leader, hearing of Tom’s battlefield conversion, stated, “We've enjoyed working with him.” Really? Having served with Tom for two years on a house committee, I knew him as personable but quite hostile to consumers and organized labor.
Taking his senate seat in January 2007, Tom ran for Congress in July 2007 with the support of all Eastside legislative Democrats (Darcy Burner won the nomination instead). Tom was so favored that senate Democrats ousted progressive Craig Pridemore to make Tom the vice-chair of the budget committee. He rewarded them by voting against their budget and championing Tim Eyman initiatives.
Now we are supposed to be aghast that Tom and longtime dissident Senator Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch) formed a “bipartisan” coalition with 23 Senate Republicans in which Tom and Sheldon enjoy magnificent titles and their “fellow” Democrats are reduced to begging for scraps. Yet manufactured outrage supposes we fail to understand the nature of scorpions.
“Bipartisan” triumphalism made this day inevitable. It began with during my last term in the house, in which Tom’s fan club appeased the vanquished homebuilders’ lobby and tried to incarcerate a labor lobbyist, and passed right-to-work language in a then-Democratic Senate 36-11. This conditioned us.
“Bipartisan” triumphalism made this day inevitable. It began with during the last term I served in the house, 2009-10, in which Tom’s fan club appeased the vanquished homebuilders’ lobby and tried to incarcerate a labor lobbyist, and continued through outrages such as right-to-work language passing a then-Democratic Senate 36-11. This conditioned us. Additionally, Democrats warned of dire consequences if Eyman initiatives passed, and then celebrated all-cuts budgets with the frenetic energy of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video.
We were told an all-cuts bipartisan budget was equivalent to the moon landing! We heard the safety net was saved and the budget “spectacular”! We read education and higher education were, by not being cut further in a supplemental budget, saved!
Meanwhile, in truth, the safety net was gutted; the state workforce was cut to a degree greater than any other state; and education funding plummeted while tuition rates soared.
In 2003, when the all-cuts budget that was Dino Rossi’s claim to fame passed, 20 senate Democrats and 24 house Democrats voted no (Sen. Sheldon and then-Republican Rep. Tom voted for it). Since the December 2010 special session, not even a handful of Democrats have opposed an all-cuts approach.
Nonetheless: Though it may seem improbable to my friends at PubliCola who refer to me as "inconsolable," but I feel optimism. I think this moment affords us the chance to sharpen the differences between parties. I think my friends in the Roadkill Caucus who have felt disaffection have a chance to "come home" now that they are facing a greater threat than intra-party differences. People exaggerate their disaffection, too: Let's not forget their members were still challenged by Republicans this past election.
By rejecting the man Tom refers affectionately to as “Rob” [McKenna], Washington voters made it clear that after decades of Democratic governors they still want to chart a progressive course. The actions of Tom and Sheldon are, quite simply, aimed at invalidating the election. Every eight years the frog gets a chance to drown the scorpion. Will we take it?
Inconsolable progressive Brendan Williams served as a state rep from Olympia's 22nd Legisliative District between 2005-2010