Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Association of Washington Cities
June 20, 1997
The last time I met with people from this Association, it was in the heat of a legislative session we thought might never end.
Thankfully, it did end - on time, and with better results than many people dared to hope for.
Most of the bad things people feared didn't happen.
There was no reduction in local governments' portion of the property tax.
The Growth Management Act was not gutted.
But one bad thing did happen.
There was an unintended consequence of a partial veto of the hotel-motel tax legislation.
I accept full responsibility for these unintended consequence.
And I want to assure you that my administration will take any and all necessary steps to remedy this situation.
And aside from that, some good things did happen in the last session:
We made a start on dealing with water issues.
We came to agreement on welfare reform.
With your help, we overhauled our juvenile justice system.
In fact, I want to thank you - and your police chiefs - for your valuable help on this difficult issue.
But of course, we didn't get done all we wanted to do.
First and foremost, we didn't solve our transportation problems.
That's something we all need to work on together in the months to come.
It seems perfectly obvious that to cope with a growing population, we need to increase our capacity to move both people and goods quickly and efficiently - and we need to do so in ways that don't degrade our environment.
But this need isn't obvious to everyone.
We have underestimated the amount of time and energy we need to educate the public about this issue.
What the public needs from us is a crystal-clear explanation of what the problem is, and how we intend to solve it.
Then - and only then - will we have a chance at achieving consensus on a package to fund the transportation improvements we need.
And transportation isn't our only unsolved infrastructure problem.
The Land Use Study Commission - which did an excellent job of defending and refining the Growth Management Act - is now in the process of identifying the capital needs of our state.
We know there are unmet needs for parks, for public facilities, and especially for low-income housing.
And beyond the infrastructure issues, there are other, equally difficult problems that have to be solved.
As you all know, broad changes are stirring in both the telecommunications and electric energy industries.
We will need to make sure that these changes are fair to consumers, that they protect local revenues, and that they respect the important role of public utilities.
This is clearly an issue on which my administration will need your help and advice.
And then, of course, there is our tangled web of water issues.
On Monday, we held the first meeting of a special Joint Cabinet on Natural Resources to tackle these issues, and to design a state plan for saving our declining fish populations.
And throughout the summer, my administration will be laying the groundwork for implementation of welfare reform.
In all of these issues, the prerequisite to success will be strong, flexible partnerships that build trust, and focus on lasting solutions.
And it's this issue of partnerships that I most want to talk about this morning.
The best example of new thinking about partnerships is WorkFirst.
I know that many of you are worried about the adequacy of this new program, and that you're afraid you'll get left with new responsibilities for which you have no resources.
I don't intend to let that happen.
But to keep it from happening, we need to do things differently than we've done them in the past.
I have assigned Dick Thompson, Director of the Office of Financial Management, to oversee the implementation of welfare reform, and to lead a sub-cabinet that will include DSHS, Employment Security, CTED, and the community college system.
All these agencies are working hard - and working with a wide array of stakeholders - to design an implementation system.
And they will be working with you at every step of the way, because we recognize that WorkFirst can only succeed if we achieve an unprecedented level of collaboration.
This is an issue on which the buck stops everywhere - and that is the hallmark of the new era we've entered.
To reduce poverty and help people achieve economic independence, we need to create a new network of partnerships between state and local governments, local businesses, religious and community groups, and economic development agencies.
And we need to spread the word that helping the poor join the economic mainstream is the work of all of us - not just government, not just charities, but all of us.
Those of us who work in government need to learn to think beyond the bounds of government responses.
We need to fully recognize that neither the problem of poverty nor its solution is of government's making.
The truth is that sixty years of government entitlements have conditioned us to believe that government is responsible for solving problems we cannot possibly solve alone.
So our view of our own role must change.
We must move from being the conductor who drives the train to the conductor who leads an all-volunteer orchestra.
The conductor who drives the train is the embodiment of top-down, centralized control.
He tells everyone to get on board or be left behind.
That is the traditional way government programs have been run.And the conductor has usually been the federal government.
This way of running government is now obsolete.
Conducting an all-volunteer orchestra is more complicated.
First you have to convince people to join the orchestra.
And you can't have an orchestra if you only invite violinists - you have to make sure you involve people who play all sorts of instruments.
Then you have to get everyone to agree on what music to play.
And then the orchestra has to invest a lot of time in working together and practicing until they can produce real harmony.
This describes the process we're engaged in right now to implement welfare reform:
In every community, we have to recruit an orchestra of business, community groups, labor, religious organizations, state and local government, and concerned citizens.
We have to work with them to choose music that's suited to each region of the state.
And then we have to practice, and learn from our mistakes, until we get it right.
This definitely involves more uncertainty - and requires a lot more patience and tact - than the old way of doing business.
But I am convinced that the challenge of welfare reform is a new template for how government must function in many other areas in the years to come.
I know that a many of you miss the good old days when the federal government could be counted on to make the rules and pay the bills.
But devolution doesn't have to be the opposite of evolution.
It doesn't have to mean that we're going backwards, or that we're becoming a meaner, more fragmented society.
What it does mean is that we have to do more of our own thinking rather than relying on the federal government to tell us what to do.
And it also means that we have to re-think the division of labor between government, and all the other stakeholders of our democracy.
As President Clinton has acknowledged, the era of big government is over.
And it's over not just for the federal government, but for state government, too.
Government is no longer a big brother - we're just one sibling in a family that includes labor, business, citizens, and community and religious organizations.
This state of affairs requires change not only from us as government officials, but also from everyone else as well.
The corollary of the end of big government is, as President Clinton says,
that the era of the "big citizen" must now begin.
Government programs to be the last resort for families in need rather than the first resort.
But if citizens want government to do less, citizens themselves must do more.
And part of our new job description as government officials is to help every citizen, in every community, come to grips with this new division of responsibility.
To govern well, each of us must now excel, not just as the managers of programs and budgets, but as leaders and mobilizers of our communities.
We must lead all of our constituents toward a new and higher standard of
personal responsibility, community involvement and service to others.
If we fail at this crucial leadership task, we may very well become a meaner, more divided country.
But I am optimistic that we won't fail.
I think we are living at a unique moment of openness and opportunity.
For one thing, Rush Limbaugh's ratings are way down.
The level of anger and extremism is dropping, and people across the country are moving to the moderate middle.
There is an uptick in people's trust in government - not enough to celebrate yet, but enough to make us think we might have passed through the darkest hour of public disillusionment and despair.
There is a growing recognition that the solutions to our problems are not so much political as they are familial, spiritual, and communal.
And with that recognition is a dawning awareness that blaming government - or blaming anyone, for that matter - is a poor substitute for pitching in and being part of the solution.
But while all this makes me optimistic, my optimism has a lot of qualifiers.
The decline in anti-government anger is small and fragile, and if we screw things up, it could easily come raging back.
What made people mad at government in the first place was that it became too bossy, promised too much, and expected too little from the citizens themselves.
We need to expect more from citizens, and promise them less.
We need to make it clear that government is an instrument of their will,
and not their overlord.
And just as the decline in the public's anger is conditional and hesitant,
the public's willingness to be bigger citizens is a tiny, tentative flame that must be gently blown on, but not blown out.
And the best way to fan that flame of hope and engagement is to call on people's sense of civic pride, patriotism, and love of liberty and democracy.
Most of us were attracted to public service because we love democracy.
We believe in democracy.
In fact, George Will calls state and local government officials "the foot soldiers of democracy."
But for far too long, we thought it was too corny to talk about it.
Instead, we focused on the specific, the technical, and the day-to-day.
We crunched budgets, we figured out how to fix potholes, we struggled with personnel policies, we worked at improving customer service,
and tried to control the endless flow of paperwork that crossed our desks.
We stifled our own most eloquent voices and hid our passion for democratic ideals from public view.
But to succeed in this new era of governing in partnership with others,
we need more than anything else to unleash the power of our pride in the American democratic tradition.
We need to inspire people to take up the challenge of making every community in our state a great place to live, work and raise a family.
And let's be clear about this:
Our towns and cities are the places where meaningful change actually happens.
People really identify with and feel civic pride in the where they live - even when they live outside their boundaries.
And you are the leaders who can articulate the specific, local, and unique vision that will bring all our lofty ideas down to earth, and help citizens re-connect with the process of self-government.
Only when citizens are fully engaged in this work - and when we work side by side with them - can we hope to earn their trust.
It is this spirit of partnership and citizenship that I hope will become the hallmark of our work together, and the wellspring of lasting solutions to the many and difficult challenges we face.