Thermodynamics is hooey. Sometimes nature adores (rather than abhors) a vacuum, at least when it comes to political leadership and higher education. After the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education studied Washington's higher-education challenges, it took a snapshot of the political class and came back with an 8 x 10 of stagnant air. "Washington politicians have abdicated their leadership role in higher education, leaving the state with a disjointed system that doesn't produce enough bachelor's degrees and forces employers to go out of state — and even out of the country — to find skilled workers," the Seattle Times Katherine Long writes.
There may be a crass political explanation for this: Higher education doesn't poll well relative to economic concerns and human services. Also missing is a knitting together of the spectrum of education beginning with pre-K through graduate school. It's a version of John Muir's maxim that when we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else. Tease out higher ed and it's hitched to high school and the community at large. And what happened to the idea of the UW and WSU as incubators for jobs and research? "Much of the report's conclusions are not news to state policy leaders, who have been concerned for some time about the weak output of college degrees, especially in high-demand fields such as computer science and engineering. But this report puts the blame largely on state leadership — especially Gov. Chris Gregoire, but also state legislators — for what the authors call a policy 'leadership vacuum,'" Long writes.
It is time to pass along some Buddhist Dharma to state legislators (or distribute copies of Robert Fulghum's saccharine but peaceable All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.) In Olympia, they've lost that loving feeling. "It didn’t take long for House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt to take swipes at House Speaker Frank Chopp’s Democrats as the 60-day legislative session got under way Monday afternoon," the Olympian's Brad Shannon writes.
Much of this is posturing that hopefully doesn't foreshadow the session to come. DeBolt, as the minority leader, is clearly frustrated. "DeBolt followed, with a speech that, in effect, blamed Democrats for failing to take up 10 Republican ideas eight years ago that he said could have helped produce more jobs in the state. Some of those ideas include loosening land-use rules and changing Initiative 937’s language to treat hydro-electric power as a renewable resource that is cheaper than alternatives," Shannon writes. There will be an agenda on the Democratic side. Shannon writes, "Chopp laid out five goals — including jobs, funding basic education, saving the safety net from further cuts, ensuring equality under the law [for same-sex couples and for school districts reliant on property taxes] and providing what he called opportunities. In that vein, he mentioned tax reform as a way to provide more higher education resources." The good news? The state Senate tamped down the partisan rheotric, at least for day one.
It's a new year and time to soak in a slew of new voter initiatives. Efforts include an Everett attorney's campaign to prevent legalizing same-sex marriage and all-things-Tim Eyman (fresh from the defeat of his Kemper Freeman-financed tolling initiative). This year Eyman has seized on the root-canal popularity of red-light cameras. "In the past, Eyman had rejected a statewide initiative on the controversial cameras in favor of fighting the battle one community at a time," the Herald's Jerry Cornfield writes. "In 2011, he had a hand in passing anti-red light camera measures in Monroe, Bellingham and Longview. And in 2010, Mukilteo, his home town, became the first Washington community to vote out enforcement cameras."
Someone should study why these cameras are universally loathed, even though they nab light runners and might even enhance traffic safety. Is it that strobe-like flash or the indignity of facing an accuser who is an inanimate object? If Eyman's proposal reaches the ballot, voters will decide. "Under the measure filed last week, no government entity could contract to install cameras and issue tickets without approval by a majority vote of the governing body and a majority vote of the people," Cornfield writes.
Boeing notwithstanding, the state's economy is still in neutral (or stalling if you happen to be unemployed.) "The state economy continues to be weighed down by a slack housing market and less demand for construction, despite bright spots in key areas such as aerospace and computer software, the state's chief economist told lawmakers in Olympia on Monday," the Herald's Michelle Dunlop writes.
The slump offers support for tax reform centered less on a regressive, consumer-driven sales tax. "Consumer confidence has shown signs of improving, but it's too early to tell whether that will continue, he [Arun Raha, Washington's chief economist] said," Dunlop writes. "That's important because state and local government budgets are tied closely to consumer spending on major purchases like automobiles and homes." Thank goodness for aerospace. "The Boeing Co. added 8,361 jobs in Washington in 2011, according to a recent update on the company's website. The company is increasing jet production in the state over the next few years."
Lastly, Montana may need to embrace the lessons of "Lesser Seattle." This year the state's population will top 1 million for the first time. The response? One evocative bumper sticker reads, "Montana is full. Keep out." High Country News' Ben Long writes, "Growth? I suppose. Jobs? Absolutely. But remember: Montanans like Montana the way it is. The changing seasons are about the only change people embrace around here."
Seattle Times, "Higher ed woes tied to state 'leadership vacuum'"
The Olympian, "House gets off to a touchier start"
The Herald, "Red Light cameras, marriage, among initiatives"
High Country News, "Montana is full"