The Lazy B's blue funk descends

In the Jet County, they're expending a lot of energy bemoaning Boeing's failure to win a big Air Force contract. There's not much locals can do about that. But a university, that's another matter.
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In the Jet County, they're expending a lot of energy bemoaning Boeing's failure to win a big Air Force contract. There's not much locals can do about that. But a university, that's another matter.

It's as if the serotonin god turned down the rheostat: Neighbors shuffle. Playgrounds have emptied.

For the denizens of Snohomish County, Wash., Boeing's loss of a $35 billion aerial-refueling tanker contract a week ago, to a consortium of Northrop Grumman and EADS, the European parent of Airbus, marked the beginning of an official Period of Mourning.

The reason for people to mourn in this the urban-suburban-rural area just north of Seattle, where most of Boeing planes are made, is not solely because the Lazy B got a rude awakening. More on that in a moment.

First, though, it should be pointed out that the Pentagon will get its comeuppance. Wait until the Air Force takes possession of its first KC-45A, only to discover baguette crumbs gumming the navigation system.

Short-circuited altimeters? Well, maybe the Defense Department should have thought of that before enlisting the French with their on-the-job carafes of Bordeaux.

Everett-ites reach for gallows humor while the emasculating voice of Sacha Baron Cohen's character Jean Girard, from the movie Talledega Nights, echoes like a bully. What's dat, Ricky Booby? You no like ta be beataan by dar Franch?

Lawmakers wasted little time heaving red meat to the vanquished.

"We are outraged that this decision taps European Airbus and its foreign workers to provide a tanker to our American Military," reads a joint press release from eight members of Washington's congressional delegation. "This is a blow to the American Aerospace industry, American workers and America's men and women in uniform."

I agree that Alabama, where the refueling tankers will be assembled, shouldn't be considered part of the U.S., but never mind. Grandstanding is too easy.

Truthfully, many of us never fully recovered from Boeing's "Et tu, Phil Condit?" era. Recall when he decided to marry up and elope to Chicago a few years back? It meant most of the tanker stories were filed from Chicago. It also gave us two new senators from Boeing. Their names are Dick Durbin and Barack Obama.

The forsaken have a long memory. So, too, does the Pentagon, apparently. The 2003 Darleen Druyun procurement scandal likely informed this decision. The company got caught up in what the late Bonneville Power Administration administrator Sterling Munro would call "the effluence of its own exuberance." Hubris exacts a price.

Ironically, Boeing's Everett plant was itself the product of a failed Pentagon bid. In 1965, Lockheed beat out Boeing for the Air Force's C-5A jet transport. The bid presaged the design of the 747, which made its debut on Sept. 30, 1968. (Despite local mythology, William Boeing built his Red Barn along the Duwamish River, not the Snohomish, and the Tulalips really, truly were here first.)

There's a weightier reason for SnoCo-ers to mourn, and it has nothing to do with the Pentagon's tanker decision. Someone needs to educate those future inventors, aeronautical engineers, and software geeks, and Snohomish, Island, and Skagit counties still need a four-year university. Badly.

Alas, this year's campaign for a University of Washington North Sound campus was derailed as Everett-ites (like me) battled boosters from Marysville and Lake Stevens. Most lawmakers, the governor's office, and UW muckamucks sat back impassively as the internecine chaos unfolded like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Many were furtively grateful for an excuse to shelve an expensive but critical investment.

That's avoidance, not leadership.

If leadership is about the long lens of history and telling the truth (forgive the idealism), a politico needs to mutter something along the following:

It stinks that Boeing lost the tanker deal and here are a couple beret-and-baguette jokes for entertainment purposes only. Nevertheless, chances are that the Pentagon's decision won't get reversed, so my harrumphing is just for show.

We all talk about Thomas Friedman and the global economy. Well, now we know, it's a competitive, Hobbesian world. If we want to prepare for the future we need to sacrifice. That means enhancing higher education in Washington while improving access to students from underserved communities. It's time to build a university.

Until that happens, most of us will keep wearing our funeral clothes.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson