I am now, and have always been a democrat…but find it harder and harder to be a Democrat. I believe strongly in the positions and values the Democratic Party has fought for over the last few generations and dedicated my professional life to those principles.
Politics has, for me, always been a means to an end, the necessary evil in a democracy needed to secure more compassionate and effective public policies and a just and effective government. For many in the Party politics seems to be the end in and of itself. The Party now seems to be comprised of “party people”, interested much more in the party part of the exercise (read: club) than they are in the values and issues.
How do I know this? By looking at the party platform – ostensibly the mission statement, constitution and bible of the Party all wrapped into one. The Party itself says exactly this right there in the platform: “We believe in putting our Democratic values into action and we encourage every citizen to join us in local civic involvement. We welcome support of our platform and help toward improving our quality of life and strengthening our democracy. We adopt this platform to ensure that voters, candidates for public office, and public officials understand and support our goals.” (Emphasis added)
When did perceived electability become the paramount consideration when deciding who to vote for? And when did personal affluence and insider status become the definition of electability? When did the campaign cognoscenti become so cynical about what voters really want in their elected leaders? And when, and under what authority have Party leaders discarded the very values and principles that underlie the Party, and are in fact are the entire reason that I and many others vote for Democratic candidates and support Democratic initiatives?
So Judge John Erlick ruled that he had no doubt that the state is failing in its constitutional duty to fully fund a basic education for the state's schoolchildren, in McCleary v. State of Washington, the school funding case brought by parents, some school districts and others.
While this might seem as obvious as a legislator accepting tickets to a husky football game from a lobbyist seeking a tax break from Olympia, this decision is a remarkable judicial affirmation of our broken school financing system. To those who have worked inside our education financing structure and have supported this legal action as an undesirable, yet inevitable, attempt to change the system this is an unsurprising vindication.
No doubt there will be a lot of "yea, me too's" from people in education as they attempt to now have the public believe that they supported this action from the beginning. In 2006 I, as an Olympia school board member withstood the ire of my colleagues, the superintendent and the local teacher's union president - yes the teacher's union president- when I tried to get Olympia to join the suit. We "don't want to anger the legislature" was the best reason put forward not to join. Bob Shirley also became an advocate for joining the suit (i.e., a small contribution from the district and the ability for the plaintiffs to show solidarity). Two members of the board wouldn't support our involvement because, believe it or not, the local union president wasn't supportive. The statewide WEA was actually the legal, economic and spiritual force behind the suit.
So the campaign to replace Brian Baird and represent us in the 3rd District has begun in, well, earnest.
We already have our first possible criminal violation when the Governor pimped for Mr. Heck and leaned on contributors, during a legislative session, to lend a hand to Denny.
We have campaign websites up (boy, what did we poor uninformed constituents do before campaign websites?) which inform us not at all and seem to be merely a digital conduit for money transfers. When looking at Mr. Heck’s website tonight I could find ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about how he feels about any issue. In fact there nothing on there about why he wants to represent us – save for his 20 yr old elective service and his savvy investing.
I think what’s most troubling about this process is that the standard that many (i.e., Governor, Thurston County Democrats, prognosticators, etc) apparently hold when determining who to support is not at all who will be the best for the community, will serve with integrity and has a strong record of (current) commitment and involvement on at least some of the complex issues of our time. No, the standard is simply who is likely to win. And even there that assessment is made using antiquated, and failed, notions of what makes a winning candidate.
Here’s a quaint idea: how about we have a real debate, hold the candidates responsible to tell us how they feel about certain issues and would likely vote (at least on issues we know are already on the congressional table), and have them tell us WHY they want to represent us BEFORE endorsements.
I have been writing for some time now about how important it is to hold very high standards when we hire the people campaigning to represent us: how important it is to create an environment where the best and brightest amongst us desire to commit themselves to public service; how we need to create and sustain an electoral process which encourages and nourishes our Democracy by freely and safely debating all the important issues within a context of integrity and gracious space.
Russ Lehman 1501 Thomas St NW Olympia, WA 98502
September 13, 2006 Governor Christine Gregoire, Denny Heck, Member Washington Learns Office of the Governor PO Box 40002 Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Dear Mr. Heck and Governor Gregoire:
I was in attendance for about three hours at the public hearing held in Olympia yesterday, September 12th. After arriving some fifteen minutes before the scheduled start I signed up to testify.
Having not been called in the morning and given no idea even if I would be called in the afternoon I left and attended to other obligations. I write to convey my great disappointment and frustration with the way this hearing was conducted. While I appreciate the great commitment the Committee members have made to this critically important task, the message sent to many in the audience was that our feedback was really not desired and our time clearly less important than certain “invited” speakers.
Having much experience at the Legislature I’m afraid that you and the Committee members may not even be aware of how your actions send this very negative and destructive message. I will attempt to set forth the most dramatic examples:
1) The agenda for this meeting was available with insufficient time to fully review and analyze it in order to provide meaningful feedback. I am aware the Draft was circulating for some time and though the Committee is comprised of volunteers there are (at least some, highly paid) staff who should have been able to get the document out in sufficient time prior to the hearing.
So Brian Baird wants to devote more time to his family and not seek reelection. Putting aside for the moment that this would be the very first time Mr. Baird put his (this or any of his past) family before his own self interest, the opening presents a wonderful opportunity for the district to elect someone who is truly about representing the public interest- and not about his/her own reelection or protecting the club. Clearly this is NOT a job for Denny Heck!
I do wholly believe that we must transcend the partisan- motivated bickering that often masquerades as policy making in D.C. I also believe that the all too frequent negativity that surrounds public debates is corrosive and destructive. I know that I have been a perpetrator of this very practice.
While I am against the war in Afghanistan I am willing to still give President Obama some benefit of the doubt because I believe he is a fundamentally good and smart person who does in fact have, what he believes is the best interest of the U.S. (and the rest of the world) in mind. Who we have representing us makes all the difference in the world.
We know the kind of people who don’t serve us well: insiders who can’t see beyond the small world of, well, people just like them, in the club; scared and fearful people who protect the status quo because it has served them just fine; those who contribute to the drive-by style of public policy making by appearing to involve the public but instead relying exclusively on the insiders (often who created some problem in the first place). Denny Heck has a long career of being exactly this kind of person. See this letter sent to him as Co-Chair of the WA. Learns committee (letter - having troubles attaching, will add seperately)
Well, the election is over…thank goodness, and while the paper, this and other blogs, and all of the recreational pundits will read various messages into the results one thing is clear: the winners now have to govern. Now is the tough part.
I want to share with all those who were successful on Election Day, and all those who were maybe lucky enough not to be up this year, a lesson I learned from serving on the school board.
On a recent airplane trip I read about a study done by business consultant Michael Losada and psychologist Barbara Frederickson (see www.thesunmagazine.com May ‘09) where they articulated far better than I ever could exactly why some organizations often fail so spectacularly and why other organizations are often so successful. From my tenure on the school board, and as made so clear by the study, I can share lessons learned as to why the board is so often dysfunctional and unproductive. I strongly believe that the same lessons can be illustrative for all policy making groups (i.e., city council, BOCC, state legislature, etc).
At the school board, and as the study found as is so often the case in almost all low functioning organizations, the “positivity ratio” (ratio of positive to negative statements) is often less that one to one. The high performing organizations have a ratio of 6-to-1, meaning that for every one negative statement they had six positive ones. This is neither mere pop business psychology nor of small significance. People on high performing teams had an even balance between asking questions and advocating for their own points of view. They also spent an equal amount of time focusing outward (i.e., in public boards situations, toward the public) and inward within the group.
I ran into my friend Matt Green the other day. He must be, counting me, one of the other three people who read these blogs semi-regularly, and the first thing he said was, “wow, you must be in a bad mood”. Wondering how he knew about the daily challenges of being a parent of a two teenagers, I asked what the hell he was talking about. He said my blog entries have been, well…sour.
Utilizing a tried and true technique of the legal profession: I am in fact not in a bad mood; but, if I am it’s because the (campaign) silly season is in full bloom and frankly it’s wearing on me.
Another mail day, another three more flyers. While I have already voted, I can’t seem to impress upon other voters in my house the perils of procrastination. I also received a prerecorded message from my state representative, Brendan Williams today telling me that Kingsbury is essentially, our community’s savior. Well, now I realize why he is “retiring” – his judgment, of the character of the leaders we need, is so skewed as to be of questionable value.
While the claims that Kingsbury and others make are so fantastical as to be humorous, if not so bloody disingenuous, what I saw on some roads in Lacey lately have really caught my attention.
A candidate for the council, the incumbent Ann Burgman informs us that, if she were elected, we (actually those luck soles in Lacey) can expect “no new taxes”. I guess she believes that the mistake Poppy Bush made was that he didn’t follow his own promise. I don’t know Ann, and she might be a thoughtful and conscientious woman – though I doubt it.
Alright, alright, you would think by now I would learn the countless penalties for procrastination. Maybe I am still holding out for in-person voting again… Anyway, one serious downside to not voting as soon a the ballots arrive is the cavalcade of tree killing, often unrecyclable (I guess their promises for sustainability as a governing priority apply only if they are elected), flyers which arrive in the mailbox everyday spewing campaign rubbish, at best.
I received two recently telling me -first that Kingsbury was the ONLY one supporting the lake, and then Sermonti also saying the he is really the lakes’ savior. Of course what each fails to tell the reader is that the future of the estuary is a STATE decision. The city in fact has no jurisdiction, and will play an advisory role (at most) – WITH 8 OTHERS. What do claims and appeals like this say about what these candidates think about the voter’s intelligence?
Then I received no fewer than 3 separate flyers with the candidates claiming they are the true heir to Mr.’s Hunt, and/or Williams or Ms. Fraser. I even received one with the candidate’s arms literally around Hunt and Fraser. This candidate, it seems no coincidence, appears to have but one issue she cares about and is rumored to have been recruited by the capitol crew because they don’t want their view obstructed. With all due respect to Hunt, Fraser and Williams, I’ll make up my own mind thank you. I don’t need you telling me who you like. In fact I look with great skepticism at candidates whose main pitch seems to be that “…see they are telling you to vote for me”. I know the standard that these office holders appear to have for their endorsement. It’s often anything but thorough or based on whom they believe would truly represent the public interest.
Why do some people hold candidates who seek public offices, which to varying degrees: have control over public money; decide the “what” and “how” our kids learn; make land use decisions which will determine what kind of environment and community we have for decades; and in so many other ways have a direct impact on the quality of life in Olympia, to a lower standard than the grocery check-out clerk, teachers, government scientists or doctors.
When one applies for (most) jobs a rigorous examination is made of one’s actual record BEFORE an offer of employment is made. Yet there are many, especially other incumbent office holders, the local newspaper editorial board and certain established political constituency groups who appear to have as the two main criteria for endorsement: first and foremost whether the person can win and, secondarily, to what degree the candidates have been loyal members of the “club”. How do I know this? Let’s look at the record. In the 2007 school board races Messrs. Kingsbury and Hyer both endorsed Ms. Barclift while neither had ever appeared at a school board meeting, and, as we know because Ms. Barclift successfully prevented the board meetings from being televised, therefore never even saw any board action. In fact Ms Barclift, for her 8 years already on the board, had absolutely nothing to show for it, no record of accomplishment at all, not even influencing any board action. If cheerleading counts as an accomplishment (what one colleague on the board claimed was his responsibility as a board member), then she could claim fulfilling that responsibility.