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Side to side

Eearly in the last legislative session, Senator Bill Finkbeiner, whose 45th district includes Kirkland, Woodinville and part of Redmont – the northern eastside of King County – made a significant switch. In the 2005 session his vote was key to killing a key piece of gay rights legislation. This January, having resigned his leadership of the Senate Republicans, his vote changed in favor of passage, which it did. And it was hard to escape the notion that his vote change had a lot to do with attitudes on social issues on the east side of King County.

The Eastside has been a pivot in Washington politics for a decade and more – the side winning substantially there has a good shot at winning statewide. That was part of the strategy underlying the near-win of Dino Rossi for governor in 2004: He had been a Republican senator on the east side, and was thought likely to capture enough of those votes to launch him over the top. That effort came to the edge of working.

But is the Eastside moving away from Republicans? The turn of a couple of legislative seats in 2004 toward Democrats was one indicator it might be. The policy switch of Bill Finkbeiner was another. And now, the case of Rodney Tom.

Rodney Tom Tom, a realtor who lives near Bellevue – just south of Finkbeiner’s district – has been elected twice to the Washington House as a Republican. On Tuesday, he said he will run instead this year as a Democrat, and for the state Senate, against incumbent Republican Senator Luke Esser.

The Times quoted Tom as saying, “I realized the far right has complete control of the party and for me to be effective for my constituents I need to be a Democrat.”

One imagines Tom may also have been looking at the numbers.

Tom may have been reading his own numbers. In 2002, he won his first race with 52.6% of the vote; in the other House seat in that district, Democrat Ross Hunter won with 52.8%. In 2004, running for re-election, he won with 51.8% of the vote – a razor finish for an incumbent. But Democrat Hunter won his re-election with 57.1%.

Could Tom be sensing a trend here?

In 2002, Esser won with 77.5% of the vote; he was challenged only by a Libertarian, no Democrats at all. This year, two Democrats – Tom and Debi Golden (Tom’s opponent in 2004) – are up against him.

There’s a shift on the Eastside.

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