How Roberson forced Farley's departure



You may think the person most responsible for Sen. Patty Farley now caucusing with the Democrats is Aaron Ford, the newly minted majority leader.

He’s not.

Michael Roberson is.

That’s right. The state Senate GOP leader, who has had an oil and water relationship with Farley for a long time, ensured that she had almost no choice to leave the caucus and become a nonpartisan lawmaker, the first in a half-century. And it began late last week, sources say.

Roberson sent out a committee schedule last week that had Farley, who is a single mother of two children, with 3:30 assignments every day. He had to know that the freshman senator, who needs to pick up her kids from school, would find that unacceptable. He also took her off Commerce, a committee she loves.

It was a clear sign he wanted her to make a choice. So she did.

Farley tried to contact Roberson, I’m told, but he did not respond. People can dispute whether Roberson just wanted to send Farley a message to not be as obstreporous, that he never expected her to bolt. But I'd guess he anticipated her reaction, even though it cost him a vote and may jeopardize the GOP's long-term plans to recapture the upper house.

So, sources tell me, Farley called Ford and they had discussions over the weekend about her caucusing with the Democrats. Farley, I’m told, also talked to Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes about what was and was not permissible if she was technically not a member of either caucus.

When Ford invited her to caucus with the Democrats, Farley agreed, sources told me. How long that lasts, how much power she actually has in foreign territory, what committees she gets to sit on will tell the tale.

“I would say this is the result of frustration with the GOP's internal caucus dynamic...." said one legislative source with knowledge of the decision. “Combine that with the fact that she's a genuine moderate who wants to get a lot of things done. I would probably best characterize it as feeling like you're only seen as a vote and having your input otherwise ignored.”

Roberson would not comment. (UPDATE: Roberson reacted to this post by saying Farley actually asked for committees that meet at 3:30 -- Legislative Operations and Revenue. Farley acknowledges she named those two PM panels along with Commerce (a morning committee) -- and I have the original email she sent with the trio named, sent one day after a particularly contentious caucus, I'm told. My guess is others in the caucus were not surprised or upset with her decision after that meeting. Farley insisted she only expected to get one of the afternoon committees and could not do more than that. It' seems clear that Roberson believes Farley used the child care explanation as a pretext to switch parties. Buckle up, folks: Session '17 is going to be bumpy.) And Ford and Farley presented only anodyne quotes in a news release.

I asked Farley straight up if the five-days-a-week afternoon committee assignments played a role in her decision. “Yes, that is very true,” she said. “I could not do that schedule and serve in the Legislature.”

She would not comment on any friction between Roberson and her, and said of the GOP caucus she is leaving: “I have the utmost respect for that group of people.”

My guess is that Roberson decided that being down 12-9 was not significantly worse than being down 11-10, and that he would rather have Farley on the outside than the inside. On that latter point, it seems, they agree.