Wash. Democrats Join GOP, Shift Control of State Senate

Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom, center, is surrounded by Republican Senate leadership as he announces a Senate power-sharing plan on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo)

In an unprecedented move on Monday, a pair of Democratic state senators abandoned their caucuses, pledging instead to work with the GOP to control the chamber and promote Republican principles.

Democrats Rodney Tom of Bellvue and Tom Sheldon of Potlatch announced their intentions yesterday to join a new majority power-sharing coalition. Tom proposes to serve as the new majority leader, with Sheldon as president pro tempore. Under this plan, the parties would split control of the committees, with the GOP heading the panel that controls the state budget.

With the two additional members, Republicans now possess a majority coalition of 25 members, versus the Democrats’ 24.

“This is not about power. This is not about control,” said Tom, a former Republican who last switched parties in 2006. “This is about governing in a collaborative manner.”

Democratic Senator Rosemary McAuliffe characterized it differently.

“This is not a coalition, it’s a takeover,” she said. “If Senator Tom and Senator Sheldon want to go over to the Republican side, they should just become Republicans.”

Democratic State Party Chairman Dwight Pelz, meanwhile, had even stronger words. According to the Seattle Times, Pelz called the rogue Democrats “a couple of lonely men that feel this need to be important,” calling their plan a “recipe for gridlock in Olympia.”

Gov.-elect Jay Inslee issued a diplomatic statement following the announcement, saying, “Regardless of the structure in the Senate, I look forward to working with legislators from both parties to move our state forward.”

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