In a famous October 1936 speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spelled out Democratic values in a manner worthy of canonization, stating, among other things: “Of course we will continue every effort to end monopoly in business, to support collective bargaining, to stop unfair competition, to abolish dishonorable trade practices.  For all these we have only just begun to fight.”

While not as eloquent, I was struck by a more recent quote in the February 15 Kirkland Reporter: “As Democrats, I believe it is our job to stand up for working people – fight for their jobs and their attempts to provide for their families.”

Yet that latter quote came from Senator Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina).  Under his leadership, such as it is, the Senate has waged war on workers this session. The Senate’s signature accomplishment, a bill designed to coerce younger workers into surrendering disability pensions for dimes on the dollar, has received editorial praise twice in the Seattle Times and yet still does not—two weeks after its Senate passage – have even a fiscal note.

Sen. Rodney Tom, photo by Josh Feit

Last week Tom introduced a bill that got a hearing today: It would rescind state workers’ rights to bargain over wellness programs.  How can such programs be designed for workers without worker input?

Why is Tom maintaining the artifice of pretending he’s a Democrat?  In that same February 15 Reporter piece, he opines: “Too many of my fellow Democrats in Olympia have grown arrogant and out-of-touch with the people we were sent here to represent.”   

Yes, it is hard to imagine a person with greater humility, who is more-in-touch with citizens, than Rodney Tom, residing as he does in his 7,700-square-foot waterfront Medina mansion worth $5 million and yet still sticking the taxpayer for a $164 Bose headset.

Further, given Tom’s stated fidelity to working class values, what explains his assault on Seattle’s sick leave law?  In a bill scheduled for hearing today, Senator John Braun (R-20, Centralia)—with Tom’s co-sponsorship – seeks to repeal Seattle’s law.

Seattle City Council Member Nick Licata at state senate hearing today testifying against Tom's repeal of Seattle's paid sick leave law. Photo by Josh Feit

 Yet is not the mantra of Republicans “local control”?  After all, states’ rights have been at the heart of the Republican criticism of the Affordable Care Act. And I cannot count how many times I heard Republicans complain about mandates from Olympia.  Once, when we were adopting California’s clean vehicle emissions standards through the Clean Car Act in 2005, a Spokane Valley Republican histrionically cried: “Let my people go!”

In 2010, when I pushed through a law preempting local governments from unduly burdening the ability of churches to house the homeless, House Republicans screeched about local control—36 voted no on February 10, 2010.  Quixotically, though, every Republican voted that same day in favor of a bill preempting annexing cities from applying ordinances prohibiting livestock (I did, too – but then I’m a Big Brother liberal whose parents grew up on farms).

Monday, Tom spoke at a rally of reproductive rights’ advocates and assured them he was on their side.  Yet his power grab has almost certainly killed the Reproductive Parity Act in the Senate.  Who is the real Rodney Tom?

For all of Tom’s anti-tax fulminating now, he introduced a 2008 bill, Senate Bill 6900, taxing vehicle engine displacement and emissions. That single bill generated more e-mails of opposition than I or any other legislator had ever received. I was still responding to e-mails against it two years after it was dead.  From 2009-11 alone it would have generated $1.16 billion in new taxes!

Now we are to believe the proponent of this mega-tax, and sponsor of a 2009 nickel-a-cigarette tax increase proposal, when he defends the rights of beer drinkers to not have the awful burden of a 2010 sun-setting tax renewed (something that would help fund education). We are to believe him when he states, again in the Reporter: “The people of this state will be shocked when they realize just how eager some legislators are to shut out their voices and reach into their pockets.”

Well, based on his 2008 experience with SB 6900 he should know.

How are we to understand such a person?  The ideological nimbleness of Tom reminds me of something President John Adams once wrote, “I fear that in every assembly, members will obtain an influence by noise not sense.  By meanness, not greatness.  By ignorance, not learning. By contracted hearts, not large souls.”


Regular Cola contributor Brendan Williams is a former state rep from the 22nd District around Olympia. And an inconsolable left winger.

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