The American Founders decided the executive branch of government should have just one person at the top so that the public can know who is ultimately accountable for carrying out what government does. Washington state voters elect nine executive branch officials, but the focus remains on the governor, who has an ability over and above any individual legislator to speak to the media and the public and direct the conversation—the so-called “bully pulpit.”
This is especially true in a crisis. And, at least for the political class and other tax consumers, the current $1.4 billion budget shortfall is such a crisis.
Yet Gov. Christine Gregoire has proved incapable of using “the bully pulpit” to any effect. Of course, neither have legislative leaders like Speaker of the House Frank Chopp or Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. Sure everyone has expressed a desire to move forward, to make hard decisions and all that. But no one, least of all the Governor, has put forward a compelling case, has named names of those holding the process back, has used leverage to produce actual progress (and these people call themselves progressives!).
Gov. Gregoirie presents a particularly sad case, always pandering and apologizing, always full of herself but never sure of herself. She’s terribly sorry for proposing cuts, but has no choice. She’s terribly sorry that the proposed tax hike isn’t bigger, but it’s politics, you know.
It may be politics, but it’s not leadership. If the Governor wants a bigger tax increase, she should make her case, and the same goes for legislators. It’s part of their jobs to make honest (and public) arguments and then move ahead knowing that compromise, in politics, is inevitable. And sometimes you even lose.
Instead, Gov. Gregoire has preemptively surrendered, at least on the timeline. And this is the issue she’s right about—cutting quickly means cutting less with more time to implement policy changes. It’s the one piece of Gov. Gregoire’s proposal that’s simple common sense and it’s the one piece she’s publicly walking away from.
Some want to shift more spending power to the Governor’s office and away from the people’s representatives in the legislature. But Wednesday’s Seattle Times editorial nails it: the problem is not just the current shortfall, the problem is a system designed to grow at an unsustainable rate. It’s a problem only the legislature can solve. And if the current elected leadership aren’t up to the job, the people need to know it. Only then can voters make informed choices.