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Originally published Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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In defense of rogue state Sens. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon

Democrats aren’t helping themselves with the central party’s public campaign to bring down two of their own, state Sens. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon.

Times editorial columnist

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I can't speak about Tim Sheldon, but Rodney Tom is another issue all together. We were... MORE
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Remind me again which political party in Washington has taken a beating for not widening its tent and being more inclusive?

The recent online tantrums of Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz have me confused.

Democrats take pride in making room for everyone — unless you’re a fiscally conservative state senator named Rodney Tom or Tim Sheldon.

“Call out Tom and Sheldon for the traitors that they are. Join us and co-sign our letter telling Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon that they are no longer part of the Democratic Party,” read a recent fundraising note from Pelz to party members.

It’s 2013. Democrats are largely in control. Why is the head of a winning organization acting like an insecure 13-year-old passing around a slam book?

The proverbial “blue” meat narrative being fed to the party faithful through letters and emails sadly boils nuanced politics down to a total cliché.

Democrats are better than this.

Instead of looking inward at why two of their veteran senators felt frustrated enough to ally with 23 Republicans to create a Majority Coalition Caucus, the most active state party members have chosen to censure Tom and Sheldon for “a shocking deficit of loyalty.” The same group is calling for their expulsion from the Senate Democratic Caucus.

I doubt the haters have spent much time listening to these two explain their motives. The senators certainly have healthy egos (what politician doesn’t?), but they aren’t novices. Both are longtime lawmakers risking their political futures for a novel idea: Serving the people comes before allegiance to any party.

In a different email, Pelz writes he will “work with the 48th District Democrats to recruit and support a true Democrat to replace Rodney Tom. We will tell this story to every voter in his district, over and over again.”

The tale of “Rodney Tom-turned-Benedict Arnold” should inspire no one.

If they must tell stories, then don’t forget these details:

• Tom votes in line with his district in and around Medina on nearly every major issue, including supporting charter schools, a requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature on tax increases, and President Barack Obama and Gov. Jay Inslee.

• A Senate “coup” shouldn’t have been a surprise after three Democrats (including Tom and Sheldon) crossed the aisle in 2012 to help block a proposed budget the state really could not afford.

• For years, the Democratic-controlled Senate quashed debate on education reforms and minority-party ideas, refusing even to allow public hearings. As coalition leader, Tom is attempting to create a culture of civil debate. There’s a difference between considering bills and voting them into law.

Sheldon, a Democrat from Hoodsport, does not receive financial support from the party. He says they’ve worked against him for years, dating back to 1997 when local party members chose their favored Democrat to fill an open Senate seat.

Despite the backlash, both Tom and Sheldon refuse to drop the D next to their names.

Tom cannot support intolerance of gay marriage and abortion rights. Sheldon still idolizes Democrats from a different era, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman.

Look, I get it. Pelz’s job is to galvanize the base and raise lots of money. He is an amazing team player. But when his comments show up in local media, they make Democrats look more like a fraternity of close-minded, dogmatic zealots than the victors who swept last year’s elections on the promise of protecting the little guy.

Washington state will be better positioned to help the underserved if its financial house is in order. We need centrist perspectives to get there.

The Democratic Party’s efforts to smear the character of a couple independent-minded members advances the wrong agenda.

Every family has its black sheep. Political parties have their moderates.

Had Democratic leaders been more respectful of those maverick viewpoints much sooner, they might still be masters of the state Senate.

Thanh Tan's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is ttan@seattletimes.com On Twitter @uscthanhtan

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