State Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Medina Democrat who joined with Republicans to give them control of that chamber, told colleagues Monday morning that he is dropping his bid for re-election.
Tom, 50, a polarizing figure who started his career as a Republican before becoming a Democrat and then switching his caucus allegiances, cited health concerns — his own and his father’s — in an email to the other members of the majority coalition he formed before the 2013 legislative session.
The socially liberal and fiscally conservative second-term senator was probably facing the political fight of his life — a top target of Democrats, but unwilling to fully embrace the GOP, Tom was starting a heated battle with former Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride. McBride has already raised more than $61,000, among the most of any challenger. Tom had raised $109,000.
“It’s been an incredible honor, an incredible privilege, but I’ve always said family comes first and there are some things I have to do,” Tom said in an interview.
He added that his campaign was in good shape and leading in an internal poll conducted last week.
The decision creates a major opportunity for mainstream Democrats, who are battling to take back the Senate from the Majority Coalition Caucus that includes 24 Republicans, Tom and Potlatch Democrat Tim Sheldon. The Democratic Caucus has 23 seats.
Democrats can continue to support McBride or switch things up by running someone else such as powerful state House budget chairman Ross Hunter or state Rep. Cyrus Habib.
Habib said a more high profile candidate could help the party win the suburban Eastside seat while saving resources for other priority races. He said he’s “going to have a number of conversations today and tomorrow” with party leaders.
Republicans, who had allowed a former spokesman to be Tom’s campaign manager, will now have to find a candidate of their own.
There is no obvious GOP candidate. The closest might be businessman Gregg Bennett, who raised more than half a million dollars in an unsuccessful 2010 challenge to Tom.
Tom said he is not yet supporting anybody to replace him.
Below is Tom’s email to his Senate colleagues:
I wanted to let you know I will not be running for re-election to the state senate this year. A sequence of events just make this the right decision for me. I’m still working through some health issue related to my kidney stones adventure that I had at the end of session. The final straw was on this past Thursday, my 85 year old father was hit by a car while walking in the grocery store parking lot (in a crosswalk with his cane). It broke his femur, as well as damaging his hip. He’s going to require a lot of physical therapy over the next several months, and I’m his only son that lives in the area. I have always said that health and family are my number one values, and instead of that being merely a campaign slogan, I really do try to live by them.
It has been an incredible honor to serve in the Legislature these past 12 years, especially these last two years working with the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC). It has been a thrill of a lifetime working with all of you (well, most of you!). I really do believe we did an amazing job for the citizens of Washington state these past two years in focusing on jobs and the economy, creating a great education system for all of Washington from pre-K to our colleges and universities, all while maintaining a sustainable budget that empowers our economy.
I wish you all the best of luck in the future, you’re an amazingly talented group of individuals. I hope you stay true to the core principles of the MCC, and leave the social and other divisive issues aside. If you stay focused on what really matters in driving our economy forward, the citizens of this state will be well served.