State senator Rodney Tom (D-48, Bellevue), the dissident Democrat who has joined with the Republicans to oust the Democratic majority (and make himself senate majority leader), hosted a town hall at Bellevue city hall last night.
While the event, which he co-hosted with 48th District Representatives. Ross Hunter and newly-elected Representative Cyrus Habib, was billed as a standard legislative session preview, the night gave Tom's constituents a chance to confront him for abandoning the Democrats. (The place was, indeed, packed and Tom got an earful.)
We've got a detailed report on the Tom showdown in this morning's Fizz. But we also got a chance to speak with Tom ourselves after the meeting.
Our Cola One Question for Tom, given that he hypes his liberal positions on social issues ("I'm 100 percent from NARAL" he told an upset Democrat last night), was this: Isn't he threatening the Democratic agenda by putting Republicans in charge of every committee? (Re: "100 percent" from NARAL. Tom is certainly pro-choice, and he's rated "PRO" by NARAL. He did disappoint the pro-choice camp last year, though, by stalling the Reproductive Parity Act on a procedural budget vote to help the GOP.)
The budget isn't the only thing on the docket this session. Anti-choice Republican senator Randi Becker (R-2, Eatonville) is now the head of the health care committee, for example and staunch conservative Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale) is in charge of the energy committee (where newly elected Democratic governor-elect Jay Inslee—who Tom boasted about voting for last night—is likely to see his green, renewable energy agenda tank).
PubliCola: With the Republicans in control of all the committees now, aren't you nervous that they will shut down the Democratic party's agenda?
Tom: We will go back to what people really want us to concentrate on—jobs, education, a sustainable budget, streamlining government. Those, believe it or not, are straight off of Governor Inslee's website.
PubliCola: But as a Democrat, don't you risk losing control of the Republicans that you've empowered, that are on a different side on those issues from you and Gov-elect Inslee?
[There are actually a long list of things on Inslee's website—including transportation and environmental issues, that aren't likely to make it through a Republican senate.]
Tom: We have the [liberal] house. We're not turning back the clock on social issues in Washington state. This district voted 64 percent for marriage equality. We're not turning back any issues like that.
PubliCola: What about moving forward? You still have to set up Obamacare in the state. There's the Reproductive Parity Act guaranteeing that insurance covers abortion.
Tom: You will see us move forward with the exchange. But I will say this, there is a concern that the federal government is going to be cutting back. And the first two years are being paid for by the federal government, but then state picks up the whole thing—and right now [the exchange] is projected to cost $50 million [in overhead to run] a year, which is crazy.
Footnote: PubliCola wasn't the only one asking Tom questions out in the hall in Bellevue last night. One upset Democrat pressed him to justify abandoning the party.
Tom, who was being staffed by the senate Republicans communications director last night, by the way, went with, well, a standard GOP trope, playing the anti-Seattle card.
"You would have had Ed Murray from the 43rd running for Seattle mayor negotiating with Frank Chopp from the 43rd. There's more than just the 43rd that represents Washington state. And I think you will get a much more balanced approach with what we're doing."