This Washington

PubliCola Picks Ross Hunter and Rodney Tom in 48th Legislative District

By PublicolaPicks October 22, 2010

PubliCola picks Rep. Ross Hunter for District 48, Position 1

We've written a lot about the symbolic significance of this race, which pits Democratic state House finance committee chair Ross Hunter against former Washington State Republican Party Chair Diane Tebelius. While Tebelius and the Republicans spin the budget as a socialist war on prosperity, we think Hunter, the Democrats' budget captain, drew up a judicious fix. A fiscal moderate, Hunter deserves credit for taking a balanced approach that rescued core services, honoring the state's commitment to things like senior and child care during an unprecedented recession.

The budget is the flash point of this election, and we side with Hunter's Democratic approach of balancing cuts and finding new revenues against Tebelius' strict all cuts GOP approach.

The contest between Hunter and Tebelius is also significant, by the way,  because it's taking place in Seattle's Eastside suburbs---bellwether turf for the mood of mainstream voters. (It's also the beachhead for control of the state legislature, starring districts that were once solidly Republican, but became solidly Democratic over the last decade, with Hunter, a former Microsoft exec, leading the way in 2002.)

This endorsement is the appropriate place to pause and go in-depth on the budget, Hunter's laudable achievement. After the stock market crashed in September 2008, legislators had to deal with an $11.8 billion revenue shortfall to fund existing government programs. (Over the next two years, legislators will have to tackle another $4.5 billion shortfall.)

To address the $11.8 billion problem, under Hunter's leadership, the Democratic budget made $5 billion in cuts. They also used about $3.6 billion in federal money, $2.5 billion in fund transfers and reserves, and about $787 million in new taxes on things like soda and candy and cigarettes to balance the budget and  fund core government services, like children's health care, college grants, and senior care.

The government is not growing. In real dollars, this year's budget is $1 billion less than the previous budget. It is, in fact, the first time in 60 years that the budget it smaller than the previous year's budget.

And much of the new revenues came, thanks to Hunter, from closing corporate loopholes, like an $85 million tax dodge on out-of-state operations and $2.1 million on corporate board directors.

We would endorse Hunter solely on his budget management, but add on this gold star: Nearly two years before Waiting for Superman became the cause celebre, Hunter led the charge on ed reform, passing a blueprint bill that expanded the definition of basic education, mandating higher standards for high-school graduation.

Tebelius' economic policies are more nuanced than the amateurish Tea Party rhetoric we're hearing from most Republican candidates. And she's open-minded on transportation, environmental, and social issues in a way many of her party colleagues are not. Were she running against a lesser candidate, she'd be up for a PubliCola pick.

But Hunter is a standout leader in Olympia, and it's important he's there next session to tackle another round of budget woes.

PubliCola picks Sen. Rodney Tom, 48th Legislative District

This was a tougher call. Tom is a little too politically calibrated—changing parties (R to D in 2006) and positions (for 960, repeal 960, for 1053), which calls his credibility into question. Like Hunter, Tom is a central architect of the state budget—he's the vice chair of the Senate's ways and means committee.

However, unlike Hunter, Tom's record raises another red flag: After helping write the budget this session, he turned around and voted against it, forcing Senate majority leader Sen. Lisa Brown to cut him from the negotiation team. Odd—and clearly his vote was based on political calculations about his finicky district.

However, akin to his district, Tom is a social liberal (he thinks the state shouldn't be in the marriage business, and he was the lead on a Planned Parenthood bill to make "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" divulge their agendas—a bill his GOP opponent tells PubliCola he would oppose). And he gets it on basic environmental issues like standing up for the failed transit bill last session. However, it was disappointing to see him oppose the green jobs bill that came over from the house and is currently in front of voters as R-52. (PubliCola has endorsed it.)

And while we're not 100 percent down with the 520 plan, we have to applaud Tom for doing his district's bidding,  forcing the issue down house leader Chopp's throat and moving the project forward after years of delay.

Tom's opponent, investor Gregg Bennett, isn't better on any of the issues where we differ from Tom (Bennett opposes R-52 as well). And we disagree with Bennett on issues where we agree with Tom: Sen. Tom is against repealing taxes on soda, candy, and bottled water (he says taxing unhealthy food is a public health issue, and we agree). Bennett is for it. Tom is against I-1082, the initiative that would let private insurers into the state's workers' comp market—a risky move that Bennett, predictably, supports. Bennett toes the GOP party line on all the initiatives this year.

And on both candidates' front-and-center issue, education, Tom is a proven leader, standing up to the teachers' union and pushing reform.

Tom can be erratic, but his maverick agenda is a better fit for the district.

Last week, we endorsed Democratic Rep. Deb Eddy for 48th District state Rep., Position 2.

The rest of our endorsements, including our original 32 No Brainer picks (such as Patty Murray, Joe Fitzgibbon, and No on 1-1053) are here.
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