Isn't it Weird That: Meet the New Republican-Dominated Majority Coalition Caucus Starring Democrat Rod Dembowski

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED Something Weird We Noticed about the King County Council's Majority Coalition Caucus.

By Josh Feit July 23, 2014

State Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina) is gone, but there's a new Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus. This one is on the King County Council. Filling in for Tom as the Democrat caucusing with the Republicans? Freshman King County Council Member Rod Dembowski, who represents several North Seattle suburbs, including Shoreline and Bothell.

How do we know Dembowski is playing partisan politics, siding with the Republicans over the Democrats? Because of the really weird vote he took this week. 

Isn't it Weird That... Democratic King County Council member Rod Dembowski joined with the GOP last week against a Democratic Metro funding proposal and then voted for a nearly identical proposal (there was one grammatical change from a "their" to an "its") this Monday when the Republicans sponsored it?

Here's the deal: Several weeks ago, Dembowski responded to the public vote against the vehicle license fee (VLF)-plus-sales-tax package to stop Metro cuts with a GOP-scented proposal.

Acknowledging that Metro had to cut, as the Democrats urged, 162,000 hours in September, Dembowski's plan green-lighted those cuts, but he suggested holding off on the February cuts until Metro did an audit to find supposed efficiencies. The problem: Metro had already done a performance audit, and had already identified efficiency reforms which, the county found, saved millions. With that in mind, Dembowski's rhetoric about finding inefficiences was redundant. A recent Metro report says: "Between 2009 and 2012, Metro implemented recommendations of a King County performance audit that saved $204 million from 2009 through 2013 and they are expected to realize $93 million in ongoing annual savings."

There was one grammatical change from a "their" to an "its."

Meanwhile, the council has already adopted five fare increases since 2008—and one more is scheduled for next year.

Democratic King County Council member Dave Upthegrove quipped during the debate over the proposal: "I know as a new guy it is really easy to walk in here and say, 'I know the solution, let's do an audit. Then I found out, we had already done one. Then I thought, let's make Metro more efficient. Then I realized we had already done that too."  

The four Republicans on the county council joined Dembowski, passing his legislation in mid-June. Constantine promptly vetoed it, not only complaining about Dembowski's audit posturing, but seconding the Democrats who said Dembowski's plan was fiscally irresponsible because there was no money to prevent the cuts.  

After weeks of negotiations between Dembowski, Democratic County Council leader Larry Phillips, and County Executive Constantine, the Democrats decided to vote on the compromise—which would approve the cuts for February (188,000 hours), but not name the specific routes slated for cuts, while holding off on cuts previously planned for after February. A special ad hoc committee, made up of three county council members and the county executie, will come up with the specific list of cuts.

The legislation, sponsored by Phillips, along with fellow Democrats Joe McDermott, Larry Gossett, and Upthegrove stalled in council, though, when Dembowski and the Republicans—Reagan Dunn, Pete Von Reichbauer, and Kathy Lambert—voted 'No.' (The 4-4 tie killed it. Republican Jane Hague was absent.)

However, the very next day, in committee, Dembowksi brought back the same legislation—recommending zero substantive changes. The sponsors this time, though, were Dembowski himself, along with all four Repbulcians: Hague, Dunn, Lambert, and Von Reichbauer. It passed the committee 6-0. (The Democrats had no problem with the legislation because it mirrored their proposal from the previous day.)

The next Monday, July 21, with the Republican-sponsored version in front of the full council, it passed 9-0. Again, the Democrats, unlike Dembowski, didn't bother with the silly politics.

To be fair...or more accurately, precise: Legal staff, independently of Dembowksi and the Republicans, did make one change. In the new version, they clarified what constitutes a "meeting" of the ad hoc transit committee. Other than that the only difference between the Democratic version and the Republican version is that there was a Democratic version and a Republican version to begin with. 

Compare the "competing" proposals for yourself. Here's the Democratic proposal that failed. Here's the Republican one that passed.

We have a call in to Dembowski. 

UPDATE: Dembowski says the reason for rejecting Phillips' proposal and bringing back a new one of his own was procedural, which may sound remote, but in Dembowski's opinion, it meant that there would be more public notice and public input. "Literally, [Phillips' version] was handed out on the dais. It had not been shared with members or legal counsel beforehand, nor the public. And I really do believe in our legislative process." Dembowski noted that by holding off, they ended up getting public testimony from the League of Women Voters, a local community college, and from the Native American community.  

Dembowski also says he got the green light from Metro that holding the legislation for a week wouldn't put their planning process at risk.  

"The question should be," Dembowski says, "why didn't the same Democrats who sponsored it the Monday before, sign on to the same legislation on the Monday we adopted it." (Of course, the Democrats did vote for it.)

As for the Rodney Tom charge? Dembowski says he still cacuses with the Democrats every Monday. 

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