Gary Locke has a dream... (...and it's very, very boring).

IF YOU WERE a hardworking manager of a state agency, you were rewarded last week by getting to hear Gary Locke give a speech about leadership at the Governor's Leadership 2000 conference. We all know how uplifting a speech from the boss can be. I got to read it online (www.governor.wa.gov/speeches).

The talk featured a couple of interesting things, like an extensive quote from Machiavelli's The Prince (more on that later), and Bartlett's appearances by Helen Keller and African Aphorism.

Locke promised to lay out his "core vision" in the speech, and there were the usual nods to kindergartners, fresh water for salmon, and education in general. But his message to these state workers, and the folks who work for them, was pretty much the same as every other manager who is trying to tighten the belt and get employees to work harder yet has nothing new or exciting to offer, only bad news and a veiled threat or two.

Work harder, he exhorted. Commit yourself full to your job. Work smarter. The world is changing fast. For your agencies, it's a zero-sum game: There's no more money, so anything new you want to do will come out of some other agency's pocket. He reminded them: Initiative 601 is the law, so live with it. And he warned them that if they don't give it their all, there will be hell to pay: "Taxpayers are demanding more. And as we know, they are not beyond taking matters into their own hands when they're fired up."

Get with the program, folks, because the barbarians—er, voters—are at the gate.

One thing that never fails to disappoint in Gary Locke's rhetoric is that it promises big, then falls flat. His speeches never seem to deliver. Hard work and sacrifice, yes, but what's it all for, Gary? He used words like "vision," then talked minutiae, as if saying: "I have a dream . . . to save 20 percent on paper clips."

In all of Locke's speeches, one thing is missing—the thing that every state bureaucrat knows drives budget, priorities, staffing levels, organizational structure.

That's discussion of policy.

For state workers, it's not a question of what they're here for. They have job security and a duty to serve (or ignore) the current master in governor's office. It's the governors who come and go every four years or so, and they need to have an answer to the question: What are you here for, governor?

Gary Locke has made it known that he's there to prune the shrubs, especially those pesky FTEs—which is bureaucrat-speak for "full time equivalents," meaning people. He tells the state managers to use attrition, not layoffs, but most of them know it means reducing payroll and increasing the number of folks working on personal contracts: They don't count as people or FTEs.

LOCKE CAN'T EXPECT that state workers will accept his policies ideologically—after all, many of them are likely far more liberal or far more conservative than the governor—but policy does give state agencies a sense of direction and purpose. And talking about policy and "core vision" can help everyone, the public included, understand the work the state is trying to do. It can inspire the voters—or "taxpayers," as Locke calls them—to support ideas and initiatives that might renew their faith in government or offer vital services that are necessary but not popular. The management efficiencies Locke touts are important to restoring that faith, yes, but you also have to find a way to generate support for other real needs and new possibilities beyond spending lids.

Time and again Locke seems to have surrendered possibilities without a fight. He is content to nibble around the margins. He governs during incredible prosperity, but he leads as if all the cupboards were bare. He's a virtual shoo-in for reelection, but refuses to be bold. He touts change and technology, but seems uncomfortable with the former and ignorant about the latter. Last Wednesday, for example, the day Microsoft was split by a federal judge, he leaped to their defense on KIRO radio, claiming that the company was solely responsible for the entire tech boom of the last five years. Apparently, his only knowledge of what's going on comes from Microsoft press releases, or Slade Gorton's.

Locke is squandering opportunity, failing to create a larger message or a larger context for his success and the success of the people who work for him.

LIKE MANY POLITICIANS, Locke seeks solace in the wisdom of Machiavelli. He quoted him: "It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. . . . For the reformer has enemies and only lukewarm defenders. He must confront the disbelief of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything until they actually experience it." He appears to be warning these state managers that they will face resistance to a new government culture that embraces change and counts its paper clips.

But Locke should heed these words himself. He must confront the public's disbelief in government by reminding them of what it can do and who it must serve; by initiating new programs that can show people results; by not simply embracing the agenda of his enemies, but conveying a genuine alternative to it; by showing people there's a lot more to running a booming, growing, and troubled state than cutting down on those pesky FTEs.

Get some fire in the belly, Gary, or the people will stay lukewarm at best.

 
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