We’re proud Democrats who represent our districts, not a party

by Senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon

Here’s a question we have never heard from a constituent: “Why can’t you be more partisan and divisive and forget about getting things done?”

Believe it or not, the state Democratic Party is saying just that. In a resolution adopted at its recent central committee meeting in Olympia, the state party charged us with not reflecting “Democratic values” and being “disloyal” to the party.

Why? Because in December we openly recognized the fact that neither Democrats nor Republicans in the state Senate possessed the 25 votes needed to effectively govern. We understand that it is the role of political parties to put politics before all else, but as elected officials and leaders, we have a higher responsibility. We have to get things done.

As the two Democratic members of the Senate’s new Majority Coalition Caucus, we find this accusation of “disloyalty” to be small-minded, petty and factually untrue. We have never betrayed our core beliefs, and regardless of what some self-important potentates in Olympia and Seattle pronounce, we are still proud Democrats.

We have served our respective legislative districts for many years now. The people in our local communities know us and know that we are committed to representing them. We work for them, not a political party.

If you look at the choices made by voters in our districts, we are right in line on social issues, taxes, the need for education reform and a responsible budget. The messages our constituents have sent are very clear: Fund and improve our education system, balance the budget without new taxes, and get our families back to work. Appropriately, that has been the focus of our coalition since the 2013 legislative session started in mid-January: jobs, education and the budget.

Exactly what part of encouraging job creation, creating a quality, well-funded education system and producing a sustainable, balanced budget is a betrayal of Democratic values?

We owe it to the people who have repeatedly chosen to send us to the Capitol, and to the people of this state, to represent them and to work effectively with legislators of both parties to solve problems.

When political partisanship flies in the face of what the majority of our constituents want, we side with the people, not the party. Our districts voted overwhelmingly in support of a two-thirds majority requirement to raise taxes. So does siding with the 64 percent of Washingtonians who voted for Initiative 1185 in November upset some of the extreme elements of the party? Perhaps. Will that deter us from doing what we know is right for this state’s hard-working taxpayers? Of course not.

As far as our loyalty is concerned, we are loyal to the principles we have always held and to the constituents who have sent us to Olympia. We are not switching sides. We always have, and always will, be on the side of the people we represent, and side with them over any political party.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, is Senate Majority Leader and represents the 48th Legislative District. Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, is Senate President Pro Tempore and has been elected as a Democrat to the Legislature nine times.