On The Road To 2008 - Commentary on issues as we countdown to the next opportunity to change the direction of America

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rodney Tom Flips - Becomes A Democrat

It has been a very eventful day for 48th District Democrats.

Yesterday afternoon I received word from Debi Golden, state senate Democratic candidate looking to unseat Republican Luke Esser, that Rodney Tom, Republican state legislator for the 48th, was looking to flip and become a Democrat. But that wasn't all, he was also going to seek to unseat Esser!

Today he made the switch official:

Two-term Republican Rep. Rodney Tom of Bellevue says he is quitting the Republican Party to run for the state Senate as a Democrat.

Tom will challenge incumbent Sen. Luke Esser, R-Bellevue.

"I realized the far right has complete control of the party and for me to be effective for my constituents I need to be a Democrat," Tom said today.
Certainly for Debi this is discomforting news. She now finds herself in a primary race against an ex-Republican that has been pretty moderate in the past year, voting, for example, in favor of gay rights (as opposed to Esser who voted against the anti-discrimination law).

Debi ran against Rodney Tom during the 2004 elections, narrowly losing with 48.2% of the vote in a short campaign that started late, so he has definitely become quite a nemesis to her with this move. Meanwhile, Tom was encouraged by Ross Hunter to cross the aisle. When I asked Ross about the switch he replied that it's great to have another Democrat in the 48th. Indeed. It has been lonely for Hunter as the first Democrat to win a seat in the 48th since statehood. Now his buddy Rodney Tom, the man with two first names, has decided to join him.

Indications are that Tom had had enough of the constant heavy handed Republican pressure placed on him to vote against his conscience on issue after issue. That that happened is definitely disturbing, but it is the nature of our political system, and Tom's decision to join the Democratic party tells us which party appears to share his views on social issues. However, it also makes one wonder why a man of his age only just now figured out he was a Democrat and not a Republican. Tom explains it this way:

"In the old days if you were a businessman you were a Republican," he said. But as the district changed, he said, the Republican Party has gotten more conservative and come under control of what he says is the "far right."

"I've come to the realization to be effective in that district I need to run as a Democrat," he said.
One way you could read those statements is that Tom isn't saying he is a Democrat, just that he needs to call himself one and free himself up from the pressure Republicans were putting on him to follow their agenda. In my mind, that makes him much more an Independent than either a Democrat or a Republican, but being an Independent wouldn't provide him with the political backing and support he would need to get elected.

So what happens now?

Well in the near term, Democrats will be trying to figure out how they feel about this. Debi Golden was their candidate and she is a Democrat. Rodney Tom has the experience of a couple of terms and is a moderate that perhaps fits well with the political leanings of the district. I think both have a good chance of beating Esser, although a case could be made that Tom might have a harder time unseating Esser because he is too close in ideology. Yet Tom supports legal abortion, gay rights and transportation taxes - Esser does not.

Those wanting a closer look at Rodney Tom can get one as soon as Wednesday night at the monthly 48th District Democrat meeting, which is held on the 3rd Wednesday of each month. I've been informed by Ross Hunter that he'll be introducing his new recruit at the meeting. Sounds like a can't miss event.

Meanwhile, not to be forgotten in all this is that Deb Eddy, former Mayor of Kirkland, was to be Rodney Tom's Democratic challenger this year. Now, we can be sure, she will compete for the seat against a TBD GOP shill, which probably makes her task a lot easier.

So an eventful day, and perhaps a defining one for Rodney Tom's future. This is certainly a big gamble for him and he may find being a Democrat a short lived career move if he doesn't win the primary or take Esser's seat. Initial indications are that if he hoped to be received by Democrats with open arms, that may not happen, although he'll definitely have the support of his friend Ross Hunter. He'll get a personal sense of that at the 48th Dems meeting.

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