Two years ago in the wake of the Obama victory and Democratic surge, I wrote a column for Washington Law & Politics about how "we're all socialists now." That is, that with the recession and bipartisan support for the stimulus and Wall Street bailout, belief in government action was back in vogue. It seemed to fit, since so much of government is already structured to do business's bidding.
I also wrote that people in Seattle were experiencing the opposite of the dissonance of the George W. Bush years. Whereas 2004 had left Seattle lefties feeling they were perched on a remote, eroding blue archipelago, 2008 brought our ideas (and our people, like Ron Sims, Gary Locke, and Gil Kerlikowske) into the political mainstream. The nation and Seattle were in sync, and cognitive harmony reigned amid hope.
For a few days, anyway.
But times have changed and dreams of a new New Deal have evaporated. Today, Seattle is back to isolation, protected slightly from the national Tea Party tsunami by the Cascade Curtain, but by and large, out of step with current political and economic reality, which is driven by fiscal challenges.
Virtually every progressive lawmaker and office holder in Washington state is now fated to deal (again and with more difficulty) with crashing budgets, shrinking revenues, red ink, and black holes, and without the cavalry of new taxes coming to the rescue. Even generally liberal Wetside voters turned down the chance to implement a progressive income tax and pay more sales tax for cops and courts.
Voters don't want to shell out any more cash, and government has to cut. From Mike McGinn and the liberal Seattle City Council to King County Executive Dow Constantine, to Gov. Chris Gregoire, the job is to prune government back as much as possible without killing it. In effect, we're all Republicans now. And all operating (again) under the Tim Eyman plan of needing two-thirds of the legislature to agree on any new taxes. We're bound tighter than an ancient Chinese foot.
The most dramatic example of embracing the new is Gregoire's executive order this week declaring a moratorium on new rules and regulations in order to "conserve" resources and help business. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions, perhaps too many for it to be very meaningful in practical terms (Sightline has a great post on how confusing the order is). Its effects are unclear. But it is a huge symbolic victory for the Eyman-Tea Party-GOP world view.
In fact, Republicans are quickly taking credit for the governor's action, which basically states that new regulations are bad for business, so no new pesky rules or regulations in 2011. Here's part of a press release from the Washington House Republicans giving credit to one of their own for the concept:
In August, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, sent a letter to Governor Chris Gregoire requesting a temporary moratorium on all non-essential rulemaking activities by state agencies. Orcutt believes doing so will "save the state millions of dollars, allow employers some regulatory certainty, and show our citizens that their leaders are genuinely concerned about their personal and financial dilemmas."
Orcutt's idea had been gaining steam behind closed doors, and now, is being formally embraced by the governor as she released executive order 10-06 today, which effectively eliminates all non-essential rulemaking by state agencies until the end of 2011.
"I'm extremely pleased the governor has responded to my request," said Orcutt, who serves as a member of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council and is the ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee.
Dealing with the budget crisis requires courage and creativity. For progressives, it requires skills at refocusing and reorganizing government to deliver more with less. This is no less than the private sector has had to do. But the simple facts are that government is going to have to be reformed and made leaner and meaner. This should have been the mantra of progressives even before the current crisis, but it has to be embraced.
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