2008: Year of Hope, Year of Fear. Essay 10

The Northwest's progressive tradition is "shovel-ready" for some national programs.
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Washington was the only Northwest state to vote for third-party candidate Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. (Social Security Administration)

The Northwest's progressive tradition is "shovel-ready" for some national programs.

In 1984 then-state Sen. Jim McDermott ran for Washington Governor on the APPLE agenda, with each APPLE letter spelling out a political goal. It was "L" promising "life with hope, without fear" that stirred a subconscious transposing. Didn't McDermott mean "life with fear and with hope?" Doesn't fear, properly channeled, give us meaning?

Both currents, as the overall headline for this series of year-end thoughts implies, defined 2008 just as they will define 2009. A couple of questions arise: 1) Will the Northwest, as a far-left-coast laboratory of democracy, have any influence on the national conversation? and 2) Will the economic crisis speak to our better angels and translate into a full-scale blitz for things such as National Service?

Washington's progressive tradition still hangs like the scaffolding of a home remodel that's never quite finished. We have public utility districts, a populist state constitution requiring voters to pick a public lands and insurance commissioner, port districts conceived to delegate control to citizens (ha!), and an initiative process borrowed from the Swiss and designed to smash concentrated interests.

All these instruments of accountability and direct democracy have corrupted over time because people are, well, people.

Suitably chastened, what then should we do? For starters, during the 2009 legislative session we should identify one or two specific issues which reveal some core values. For me it's establishing a sensible rate cap and finally reining in the payday-lending industry that preys on military families and the working poor. Think of it as one of those if-they-can't-do-it-now-they'll-never-ever-have-the-backbone-to-do-it benchmarks. But remember: the payday-lending industry has deep pockets.

I also like Ted Van Dyk's suggestion of dropping industry-specific giveaways as a way to address the budget deficit — an inspired idea that runs counter to the tyranny of interest-group politics. Alas, it probably won't happen. So maybe before lawmakers monkey too much with budget sweeteners and other revenues, they should re-noodle the armature that carries the load, Washington's regressive tax structure. Someone in Olympia needs to dust off Bill Gates Sr.'s 2002 "Tax Structure Study Report" and move on it.

True, that won't happen either.

On the federal level, 2009 can be crystallized in one issue driven by the economic storm: National Service. In addition to military service, there will be a massive ramping up of AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps along with innovative initiatives such as a Green Service Corps, a Hospital Corps, and a National Park Service Corps. These programs will conflate the idealism of the Peace Corps with the hands-on, back-to-basics ethic of the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Here, finally, is where the Northwest can press the conversation. We're leaders in National Service with a major contingent of AmeriCorps members working in classrooms, in community centers, and in our parks and national forests. We are, as folks are wont to say in this era of stimulus moola, "shovel ready."


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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