2008: Year of Hope, Year of Fear. Essay 5

An opportunity to transform regional politics
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The University of Washington branch campus in Tacoma. (UW)

An opportunity to transform regional politics

I'd like to build upon Kent Kammerer's "hope that maybe Obama will set a new example for local government." Actually, I'd like to twist it just a bit. My own hope is that the extraordinary grass roots movement stimulated by Obama's candidacy — a grass roots movement not seen nationally since the McCarthy campaign of 1968 — will have lasting impact on civic engagement in our region.

We fancy ourselves a progressive region, but we're nothing of the sort. Our tax policies are regressive. Our education policies are Neanderthal — they are dismally failing our kids at all levels. The ineptness of leadership that leads to governance-by-Eyman-initiative is unconscionable. The fact that some of our companies turn out to have been just like companies elsewhere is disheartening. But we have sat here for a decade, disengaged, lamenting every national election, while failing to clean up our regional act.

That's crazy. All politics is, indeed, local. If we engaged locally, insisting on policies and leaders that made our own region progressive, then we'd have a leg to stand on (as well as a far better place to live) — and if other regions did the same, then national policies would pretty much take care of themselves.

The opportunity of Obama — the opportunity that we must seize today or we will live in regret for at least another decade — is to translate grass roots momentum into regional civic engagement, and change the way we are governed at the city, county, and state level.

We have tremendous assets. We have a highly innovative technology sector. We have an equally innovative retail sector. We are a world leader in global health. We have a wonderful natural environment, and, by the standards of other regions, a thriving urban and cultural environment. These assets are ours to build upon.

Get engaged! It's cheap and destructive to sit on the sidelines wringing your hands and making smug remarks to your colleagues. When was the last time, for example, that you asked your state legislators what they were going to do to improve K-12 education, or bachelors-level higher education, so that we will stop denying our region's kids the opportunity of a bright future?

Hope is a slogan. Hope backed by an action plan is the path to a brighter future.


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