DEAR GARY,

OK, we know you're up for reelection this fall. And so far you've been pretty popular, owing to your reluctance to do anything

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10 things Gary Locke could do if he had a spine!

DEAR GARY,

OK, we know you're up for reelection this fall. And so far you've been pretty popular, owing to your reluctance to do anything unless it's been vetted by the Washington Republican Party first.

But that will only get you so far. Voters will be faced with a choice this year. If it's a choice between a young, enthusiastic, forceful Republican like John Carlson and a weak imitation of him, well, you could be a consultant soon, if you get my drift.

It's not like there's a lack of opportunities to make a statement. I came up with the following list in about 20 minutes. Your handlers, in about six months, could probably do just as well—but you don't have that kind of time. Here are some suggestions for things that would distinguish you from your political opposition, make a mark on the state, and—not incidentally—serve the voters well:

1. Socialize the health insurance industry. So far, your craven attempts to satisfy this parasitic industry has only made access to health care worse—it is far more expensive and covers less when people actually get sick. The only entity with the resources to tackle the health care industry is the state and a trust fund similar to I-725 would be a godsend to the state's 700,000 uninsured and one million underinsured. If this is too much for you, propose expanding the Basic Health Plan to make it available as a supplement to the underinsured and to Medicare patients needing prescription drug coverage.

2. Give teachers meaningful raises. Your education advocacy has been wonderful, but it's missed the point. You can reduce class sizes to one-on-one tutoring but if good teachers are fleeing the profession in droves you'll still get inadequate results. So far, there's been precious little money for the teachers. Pay them as if we're entrusting the state's future to their care. We are.

3. Put some real money into transportation. Tim Eyman's not the governor. You are. And you have the power to do something meaningful about the gridlock that is increasingly paralyzing the metropolises of Western Washington. Create incentives to get people out of their single occupancy vehicles. Fund public transit. Restore the I-695 cuts and then some. Petition the Gore Administration for money to link Western Washington by rail. Fix those decaying highways and bridges. Remember, business loves infrastructure investment. Of course, that will cost money. So you'll need . . .

4. A gas tax. This is long overdue. The state needs the revenue, and as a bonus it creates an incentive to solve gridlock. As a user fee, it's also a step in the right direction to fixing the state's onerous, regressive tax system. You can propose an income tax once you're safely into your second term. Speaking of taxes . . .

5. Close the ineffective and expensive B&O tax loopholes. The state is losing millions, maybe billions each year because big business isn't paying its fair share of state taxes. That money could fund programs that would make this a better state in which to do business, not to mention a better place to live. Bonus: It gives a boost to entrepreneurs and small businesses now forced to compete against the big folks who have an unfair tax advantage.

6. Get real on Hanford cleanup. So far your administration has been all woofing and no action as the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency fiddle with the most environmentally contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere. Now, with British Nuclear Fuel fired for its price-gouging attempts, it's more important than ever that the state provide firm leadership so Hanford cleanup won't simply be pouring money down a rat hole. Demand an accelerated cleanup timeline and measurable standards for that cleanup, or no fat checks for the new contractor. While you're at it, kill the Fast Flux Test Facility once and for all, and insist that Hanford not be the repository for further low-level nuclear waste. We need to clean up what's already there, not add to the mess.

7. Advocate tearing down the Snake River dams. Your salmon recovery plans so far have been weak and overly industry-friendly. This would be a sign that you're willing to do what it takes to save one of the state's most important natural resources. If you really want to make progress, take out the Grand Coulee while you're at it.

8. Declare a halt to the death penalty. Republican Governor Ryan of Illinois recently declared a moratorium on that state's death penalty, stating that the risk of executing the innocent was far too high. Washington's courageous governor should follow suit. The death penalty is expensive, it's not a deterrent, it disproportionately targets the poor and people of color, it is (compared to the severity of the crime) nearly random in its application, it's irreversible, fallible, and it also happens to be barbaric. Who gave the state the right to kill?

9. Put money into low income and farmworker housing. In your state's largest city, low-income housing has virtually vanished. In Eastern Washington's fields and orchards, a migrant army lives in pitiful conditions. You have the power and resources to fix that. Do it.

10. Provide more WorkFirst services for people booted off of Welfare. Your WorkFirst program has netted enormous savings to the state. Reinvest some of them in the people you're trying to help: school, job training, day care, credits for your improved public transportation systems. The ugly secret of your WorkFirst "success" has been the state's utter abandonment of those it wants to see become more independent. A little help here would go a long way.

Sure, he's a super soccer dad, but Can we trust Washington's future to Gary Locke?

 
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