No Longer Democrats! State Chairman Pelz says Tom and Sheldon Aren’t Invited to the Party

Email ‘Excommunication’ Comes After Two Dems Form Coalition Senate Majority With Republicans – Harsh Letter Used as Party-Building Tool

By Erik Smith
Washington State Wire

Sens. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, and Rodney Tom, D-Medina.

Sens. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, and Rodney Tom, D-Medina.

OLYMPIA, Feb. 8.–State senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon aren’t invited to the party anymore – so says state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz, in a letter distributed via email Thursday afternoon.

The letter declares, “Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon are no longer Democrats.”

It might be the first time a political party has used a party-building email to give a couple of its own members a swift kick in the rump. Emails like that one arrive in Democrats’ email baskets every day, often three and four times a day during campaign season. They build mailing lists that can be used to flood the Legislature with phone calls, raise money and target specific groups of voters with political messages. The idea that one that one of these party team-building messages now is being used to excommunicate Tom and Sheldon shows the two may have crossed a political Rubicon.

The two Democrats, middle-of-the-roaders with a deep independent streak, were among three who voted with Republicans last March 2 on the budget, turning control of the Senate upside down. This year they took it up a notch — they said they wanted to spare the endgame upheaval, and they joined with Republicans to form a coalition. With two Democrats and 23 Senate Republicans, the 25-member Majority Coalition Caucus has the votes to rule the Senate. The reorganization has left the Senate Democratic Caucus a minority, with just 24 votes in the upper chamber.

Tom and Sheldon say they did it to ensure that the Legislature would consider fiscally responsible spending and reforms to state programs – something they say would be far less likely under the old Senate order. But the decision doesn’t impress those who place great importance on party ties. If Tom and Sheldon hadn’t done it, the Democratic Party would have had a clean sweep of all the bases of power in the Legislature – the governor’s mansion, the House and Senate. The Senate Democratic Caucus as a whole rejected an offer of six chairmanships and three co-chairmanships, though three members individually decided to accept gavels. And while the talk on the Senate floor has been genteel, as one might expect in the state’s highest deliberative body, the state party is under no such constraint.

Calls Them Traitors

From the party-building email.

From the party-building email.

On Feb. 2, at its organizational meeting, the state Democratic Party passed a resolution of “censure” against the two members. That means no help at campaign time, it says – no more campaign contributions from the state party and no more access to Democratic mailing lists. And no doubt, a swift call to security if either show up at Democratic headquarters.

The letter urges the faithful to sign an electronic letter of protest, thus putting their names on lists that might be utilized in later battles and campaigns. The letter from Pelz urges Democrats to “call out Tom and Sheldon for the traitors 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.”

Pelz minces no words. He notes that the state party gave Tom $25,000 in campaign funds, but under the new order of things, Tom has become Senate majority leader. “Rodney Tom has been paid off for his treachery,” he says. “He was given the position of Senate Majority Leader, the most powerful position in the Senate. This just shows how he’ll place his own political ambitions over the people he’s supposed to represent.”

Pelz declares that the two “have no right to call themselves Democrats. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon are no longer Democrats. Join us in sending that message today.”

No Actual Impact

Tom, D-Medina, and Sheldon, D-Potlatch, say they consider themselves Democrats – and in this state, that’s all it takes. Under Washington law, a political-party organization has no right to exclude anyone. When candidates sign up to run for office, they choose their own party affiliation – listed on the ballot as “prefers Democratic Party” or any other designation they choose. It is a reflection of the loose party control over the political process in Washington state. Voters do not register by party, and the primary-election system does not require voters to choose a ballot from one party or the other. Instead voters choose from a list of all candidates, and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election ballot.

Tom has said on numerous occasions that he believes himself to be a Democrat because of the party’s stands on social issues. Tom represents a “swing district” in the Seattle suburbs and was a Republican during his first two terms in the state House. He says he felt increasingly uncomfortable with fellow members’ stands on such issues as gay rights and abortion. He ran as a Democrat for Senate in 2006. But Tom says he became just as frustrated with the Democrats’ resistance to reform of state government programs affecting constituencies in labor, education and progressive activist groups. In remarks to the Association of Washington Business Wednesday, Tom joked that “the Senate is one of those boring tradition-laden institutions, and this year we decided to change it up a little.” He noted that on the workers’ comp issue, the first big debate of the session, the coalition struck a compromise position that picked up five votes from the Senate Democratic caucus — showing that centrism is “broader than just myself and Tim Sheldon, on one of the bills.”

He told Washington State Wire Friday morning, “The voters sent us down here to represent all the people. If anything this has increased my popularity in my district, and I don’t think that’s what Dwight had in mind. The average person on the street thinks both parties are crazy, and that people on both sides are out of touch with their values. People are looking for people who represent them, not the party apparatus.”

Meanwhile, the letter left Sheldon amused. “So I’m not invited to the party anymore, huh?” he laughs.

What Support?

Sheldon, who represents a rural district on the Olympic Peninsula, reflects the more populist tradition of the area. It might be noted that his predecessor in the Senate, Brad Owen, now lieutenant governor, was one of three Democrats who voted with Republicans on a budget in 1987 – and for that offense he was targeted by the state Labor Council in 1988 in a big-spending and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to unseat him. Sheldon, who frequently votes with Republicans on spending bills, is one of the longest-serving members of the Legislature, yet has found himself on the outs with his own party so often that he faced formal punishment during the last two years. Under former Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, he was stripped of all but one committee assignment. It is typical for members of the Senate to serve on three or four committees.

Sheldon says that in nine races he has never gotten support from the state party. “They’ve never given me any financial support, they do not help my candidacy in any way, so it is kind of funny that they want to withdraw support – I mean, what support? I make a living running against Dwight Pelz and his Seattle liberals.”

He recalled a statement from a former Democratic Party chairman. “Paul Berendt once said, every time we say something about Tim Sheldon, he gets another 50 votes.”

Sheldon said the state party probably has to do something to counter the idea that a centrist approach might be better than Democratic control of all corners of the Legislature. And so his feelings aren’t hurt in the slightest. Except for one thing. At one point in the letter, Pelz spells his name “Shelton.”

“He doesn’t even spell my name right anymore,” he sighs.

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  • Denise Brown Fritz

    So goes the party of tolerance, and choice……

  • MrFang

    Imagine the outrage if a couple of GOPers had flipped to sway the majority. Drudge would have a stroke.

    • andeea

      exactly! :)

  • lewwaters

    Earlier in 2012, word came out that Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt had been “sanctioned” by the Clark County GOP. It was reported some 4 months after the sanctioning over numerous times he had turned his back on Republican principles.

    He wasn’t ousted, just told as long as he sided with the Democrat Party, he was not welcome to use party resources for his reelection bid.

    The Columbian newspaper went ballistic, once a candidate filed that they had shown a deep dislike for. THe common word from Democrats was along the lines of how absolutely horrible the GOP was over it and that Democrats never do such a thing, being a “big tent” organization.

    Vice Chairman of the Clark County Democrats, Nick Ande was quoted, “We don’t assume that all Democrats are going to have exactly the same views, and we appreciate that diversity in viewpoint within our party rather than admonishing it. No county Democrat has been blacklisted because they have what are perceived as more moderate viewpoints.”

    I guess he forgot to include Dwight Pelz in that memo.

    • andeea

      Viewpoints are one thing….moving your chair over to the Republican caucus is quite another. There is a line. Perhaps Commissioner Boldt didn’t cross that line. There has been plenty of flap, from both parties, when members have left to be Independents, or the opposite of the party for which they have previously stated a preference. My own opinion about these things is that when elected officials do such things they sacrifice their integrity with the people who elected them and break trust with them. Why ever do they continue to be re-elected? Possibly because they aren’t elected by the party they declared for. We can’t put all the blame on Sheldon and Tom. In Sheldon’s case, at least, he and the party have been at loggerheads for a long time. I wonder why he was allowed to run as a Democrat? It makes no sense to me why the man would choose to be associated with a party with which he has little in common.

      • andeea

        I guess I should have read the rest of the article before spouting off…I see that anyone can register as any party they choose and they don’t need anyone’s permission to do so. Perhaps we need to reconsider how we do politics in this state…It seems kind of off balance the way it is.

        • thebeavertailwhap

          Andeea.. You remind me why I always question the intelligence of the average Washington voter.
          They vote along party lines, without a thorough investigation of the issues at hand. They also vote like sheep, instead of with their brains. To hold so hard stance to a liberal or conservative line, only shows one’s lack of intelligence, often disguised as being empathetic.
          When in truth, the lack of use of one’s gray matter, prohibits one’s ability to observe and understand a gray area.

          • andeea

            There is no need to be insulting! I vote with my brain just as you do.I am not your “average” Washington voter” nor am I a “sheep”. I do my research and understand what the issues and the candidates are all about. I haven’t voted for Tim Sheldon in the last 2 elections for any position, because I am not fond of his positions on many things. I don’t consider myself anymore narrowminded than you are, and infact I have a lot of tolerance for opinions differing from my own. I don’t, however, like to be misled, and I am sure, you don’t either.

          • thebeavertailwhap

            Not being insulting… Just stating fact..
            And fact is, when the liberals fail to get their way in this state, they due or whine until they do.
            A few cases in point. Chris Gregoire’s recount after recount.
            Overturning of the 2/3 majority requirement on new taxes by the legislature by a liberal Supreme Court. This occurring when a Super Majority of the electorate passed the measure in November.
            You know, and knew what you were getting with Tim Sheldon.
            There has never been a Democrat in Republican clothing.
            He has never changed from his stand on the issues, and has held two offices in a very conservative county of less than 70,000 inhabitants.
            But alas, it is you who have the problem with him, not your neighbors.
            By your own words, you reacted before reading the entire story.
            If that is investigating all the facts and sides, and not just responding from a political slant, instead of using your brain.. ..
            You react and then defend… The usual position of a follower, and not a leader…. Or a liberal Democrat, responding only to party lines.
            Again, I take nothing back from my previous post.
            The more you speak, the more true it becomes.

      • Pru

        You mean you don’t know what he has in common with YOUR idea of what a Democrat should be. Your tent obviously isn’t very big.

        • andeea

          Pru, you are right… That’s exactly what I mean. He is a Republican in Democrat clothing. And my “tent” is very large…I just don’t like to be lied to, I don’t appreciate arrogance, and just how big is YOUR “tent”?

  • Leon0112

    So when Democrats say “let’s compromise and get something done” they mean “be reasonable, do it my way.”

    • andeea

      Hmmm…that’s what Democrats have been hearing Repblicans all across the country saying…only they leave out the “compromise” part and include a threat to hold up legislation.

      • Leon0112

        Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon were willing to compromise with the Republicans….and got kicked out of the Democratic Party. Tom and Sheldon did demand certain things from the Republicans as part of their compromise, but the mere fact of working with Republicans was enough for Pelz to kick them out of the party.

        • andeea

          Sheldon and Tom were not kicked out of the party. One cannot do that in Washington state. They were censured because it was determined that they did, indeed, betray the party they affiliated themselves with during their campaigns. Sheldon and Tom may have demanded things from the Republican party, but the fact is, we elected Jay Inslee governor of this state, and we elected Sheldon and Tom to support him. Now they have decided they would give the Republican party the majority in the Senate, thus circumventing the will of the voters. Sheldon and the Mason County Democrats have been at odds for a long time. I was disappointed in him as a commissioner on several votes, and also as a Senator on several votes. He says he is voting his conscience, but I don’t think he has a conscience that isn’t related to his own best interests. Since I am not in Rodney Tom’s district, I don’t know very much about him. Never the less… anyone can “prefer” any party they choose when they file to run for office in this state. It is a lame way to do things, but that is the way it is. Senator Sheldon has often voted with the Republican party, and arrogantly and unapologetically flaunts his choices by saying that he is taking care of the people in his district. Many of us don’t feel that he is! He crossed a line and made some people very angry, therefore he (and Senator Tom) were censured. But kicked out? not possible. Willl the Democrats support, endorse or nominate them? Probably not. That is as good as “kicked out” as we can get. They are still free to file as Democrats if they so choose. Mr. Pelz was acting on behalf of the Democrats of Senator Sheldon’s and Senator Tom’s districts in particular, and Democrats everywhere else in this state.. Mr. Pelz is the Chair of the State Democrat Party. He has a duty to represent the Democrats of this state. So, Leon0112, it is incorrect to say that they were “kicked out” of the Democrat Party, just as no one can be “kicked out” of the Republican Party. How would you feel if, say, 2 Republican Senators (of your choosing!!) had decided to caucus with the Democrats to “get things done”? I don’t think you would be anymore pleased with them than the Democrats are with Sheldon and Tom. :)

  • jimu

    I think this centrist thing ends up being a success and the extremist liberals are going to be on the outside looking in. Thank you to Tom and Sheldon for having some guts and taking a risk.

    • andeea

      I think it is ridiculous that the people elect a person who by declaration of party preference purports to uphold certain views, only to have that person betray their trust by aligning themselves with the opposite party…I don’t care if they are Republican or Democrat. It’s all about trust these days, my friend, and it is a very fragile thing indeed. Democrats are upset by the actions of Tom and Sheldon to the point of drastic action because voters placed their trust in them to act in accordance with Democrat political views. True, we should have seen it coming in Sheldon’s case, but that doesn’t mitigate the sense of betrayal. He and Tom can justify their actions all they like, but in my opinion, they are not justifiable. You would be pitching a fit if your people had decided to caucus with the Dems. And further, there is no need to rub it in by thanking these two. Do you think you can trust them? Maybe so, Sheldon has been a scoundrel for quite some time now. But you will find that his main interest is in himself.

  • Jon Moore

    Its time for a full fledged independent party. I am sick of this two party BS.

    • andeea

      I would not sneeze at the Independent Party. They have quite a few people in elected positions, the most famous one being Bernie Sanders. If you want to be an Independent do so! It’s people who form parties, and the more people they have, the more attention is paid to them! Go for it!

  • Debra Rodriguez

    Vote against them? Are you kidding? We need to give them medals! Stand your ground gentlemen as you ARE representing us!

    • andeea

      You vote for whom you wish. We thought we were voting for Democrats. Democrats have a set of values that are important to them, just as Republicans have values important to Republicans. You would not say the same if 2 Republican Senators had decided to caucus with the Democrats!