Watching the TV debates will only get you so far. Poring over the state archives, studying past budgets, perusing his Web site—none of this will reveal the real essence of Republican (sorry, GOP) gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, who is in a dead heat with Chris Gregoire less than two weeks before the election. After his devastating 133-vote loss four years ago, Rossi produced a remarkable document, an out-of-power testimonial that—so far as I can tell—has never been read or reviewed by the local media. Yet his 2005 Dino Rossi: Lessons in Leadership, Business, Politics and Life (Forward Books, LLC) tells voters everything they could possibly hope to know about the man, the husband and father, the real-estate entrepreneur, the candidate, Dino Rossi.
I have read that book (which carries the subtitle 12 Inspirational Lessons You Can Apply to Your Business and Family Life!). And I have made it my Bible. Below is the story of my humble efforts to follow his precepts and live by his wisdom, according to the actual chapter titles, chapter by chapter, one lesson per day, 12 days in a row.
In other words: Dino-cize me! Day 1, Chapter 1) Stay True to Who You Are!I am a diligent reporter. But I am also a cheapskate. I first tried to purchase Rossi's autobiography at the two largest bookstores in the state, Elliott Bay Book Co. and University Book Store, but neither had a copy. So I went to a downtown used bookstore where, to my surprise, there was an unsold stack of pristine copies sitting in the window. Accepting my payment for $23.95, the clerk confided, "The owner of the store is a supporter. So I can get you a deal if you need a dozen or more."Opening chapter one, I learned that Rossi is "a part Tlingit, half Italian, Catholic Republican who comes from a conservative Democrat family." (He's also the grandson of a Black Diamond coal miner!) And that "Leaders speak straight from the heart and mean what they say."Embracing this sentiment, I decided to develop my own heartfelt leadership plan: Buy up all the unsold Rossi inventory at the bookstore and become an eBay millionaire. I began practicing my bold, confident "Dino Rossi" autograph. After all, signed copies of Dino Rossi are currently selling on Amazon for $500!Of course, as we all know, every investment needs a hedge. Unfortunately Gregoire has no book of her own. (Profiles in Moderation, anyone?) That's why I'm also publishing The Collected Twitter Posts of Ron Sims, Volumes I-XX, leather-bound and gilt-edged. Just in case.2) My Path to Becoming a BusinessmanAs a teenager in the '70s, budding businessman Rossi managed to get his handmade candles stocked at the local Fred Meyer. "You have a gift," his father told him. "Knowing how to work hard and overcoming the fear of rejection at an early age have been two keys to my success in life," Rossi Jr. writes. He later worked as a late-night janitor during college, learning to fire those older employees "who avoided hard work at all costs." After graduation from Seattle University—and a vaguely described backpacking tour through Bali and Southeast Asia (land of fine bud...hmmm)—Rossi entered the real-estate biz in the early '80s.Dino's respect for "the free enterprise system, capitalism in its purest form" inspired me to approach the residents of Nickelsville with plans for a new multi-level marketing sales platform. Where timid, mushy-headed liberals saw a helpless population in need of a taxpayer handout, I saw a dynamic, able-bodied potential sales force, untethered to obsolete bricks-and-mortar bureaucratic thinking. "Look," I told the residents (or should I say roving marketing professionals), "You know two hobos. Each of them knows two hobos...and so on, and so on. There's a rich customer base here just waiting to be tapped. We can sell tent insurance, window treatments, wine chillers, and cigar humidors. I'll even lease each of you a wool-blended suit from the Rossi Wear-House for Men!"Like Rossi, I found that these residents, now including many former WaMu bankers, were too lazy and disgruntled to appreciate the upside to our current times of economic opportunity. "Tuberculosis isn't an infection," I kept telling them. "It's a state of mind!"3) You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying!Dino Rossi didn't make the varsity basketball squad at Mountlake Terrace Junior High. In 1992, he lost his first run for the state Senate—by only 1,051 votes! Did that deter him? Never! In sports and politics, he writes, "I laid out a game plan to change my fortune." And later, sure enough, he made the Mountlake squad, and in 1996 won his Senate seat.Recalling his entry into real-estate sales, Rossi writes, "I picked up the phone and started dialing, rehearsing in my mind what I was going to say when the person answered. In the business of sales, persistence is essential."This was an aphorism that also served me well when I made thousands of cold calls to Seattle borrowers whose homes were in foreclosure. They could keep their houses, I explained, by swapping me their mortgages for a new collateralized investment instrument backed by my Nickelsville sales force.Many of those I called, particularly seniors, were receptive to the plan, especially when I told them that food stamps, coin collections, and future Social Security checks could be signed over as collateral for the debt-for-debt swap device, which I call Rossi Home Protection Bonds.As Dino himself learned early in his business career, "A 'no' is just a stepping stone to 'yes.'"4) How to Work With the "Opposition"Here Rossi relates a painful episode about constituents in his district whose lives were shattered when a drunk driver with several prior DUI offenses caused a fatal accident.In response, Rossi sponsored bipartisan legislation in 1997 for an ignition-interlock bill to prevent chronic drunks from driving. He confides, "Alcoholism had already brought difficult times into my family. As a teenager I had a drinking and driving incident myself. So, on October 20, 1984, I said I was never going to drink alcohol again and haven't had a drink since."This prompted me to ask myself: Who was the "opposition" to my personal success? How could I, Rossi-like, reach across the aisle to a former adversary for the common good?Finally I hit upon the obvious: Meddling state regulators and bank examiners have for too long hindered the wheels of capitalism. This is one reason why Rossi founded the Eastside Commercial Bank. So I founded the West Edge Commercial Bank, an enterprise-oriented, maverick lending institution that doesn't get slowed down by green-eyeshade accountants and nanny-state regulators with their "minimum capital requirements" telling me whom I can and can't lend to. It's freewheelin'! If I like the cut of your jib, if you've got a fine backswing on the back nine, we've got a deal.I told pesky regulators, "You don't ask to look at my books, and I won't bother you by filing burdensome paperwork." After all, the WECB is legally chartered on a fishing boat drifting 200 miles west of Ilwaco. It's simpler for everyone! That's the genius of the free market!Also, I offered up a crew of my indentured yard-maintenance professionals from Nickelsville to cut regulators' lawns for free. Just a little sweetener. It all goes to prove another one of Rossi's axioms: "Everyone I meet, whether it's in business or politics, in my professional life or personal life, has value."5) Vision for a Better FutureDuring his time in the state Senate, Rossi was horrified to discover that some of the poor served by the state's Basic Health Plan weren't completely indigent, that awards for medical malpractice lawsuits had gotten out of hand, that the state employees' union had excessive power, and that too much taxpayer money was being spent on basic services to taxpayers.Recalling a 2001 struggle over the state budget, Rossi writes: "Because the Democrats had the majority, they had the votes to pass their plan through the legislature. Governor Locke signed the budget into law. I was extremely frustrated and disappointed with the outcome."But there was a bright spot: "Acting like we were in charge didn't end up as an exercise in futility." The following legislative session, Rossi became chairman of the Ways & Means Committee and could implement his budgetary ideals. "I already held a vision of where we wanted to go. And I had no doubts we would succeed in getting there."Like Rossi, I too saw injustice and the squandering of valuable resources, specifically that valuable real estate is being wasted and underutilized by housing nonpaying occupants—i.e., the dead. Nonproductive residents who aren't paying rent yet monopolize many prime scenic parcels. With some gentle prodding by backhoe and excavator, they can find more appropriate lodging in Soap Lake or Kettle Falls.Where others merely saw cemeteries, I saw buildable lots. That was my vision: A new series of gated communities with four-car garages to be called Rossi Glade View Terrace Vista Manor Estates. (Mortgages now available through WECB.)6) Helping Other People Be SuccessfulDescribing his 1994 campaign work for Slade Gorton's final term in the U.S. Senate, Rossi writes, "A funny thing happens when you ask people, 'How can I help you be successful?' You disarm them. They relax their natural defenses and they open up. They let you into their world and give you an opportunity to help them be successful. And that success is eventually returned to you."So on my sixth day of Rossi, I began randomly buttonholing people in Seattle, asking how I could help them be successful. Here are some of their responses."Get the fuck away from me, asshole.""I'm calling the cops right now! I mean it.""Which way to the Pioneer Square Market?""I said: 'License and registration, please.'""Please don't talk while we're cleaning your teeth.""Would you like to take a free stress test?""Spare some change?""Could you take a look at this goiter for me?""Please move to the other end of the counter to pick up your coffee, sir.""Just put the money on the dresser."The experiment worked. By disarming them and getting them to open up, I elicited monetizable customer-research data, and am now moonlighting as a street-level "cool hunter" for marketing-savvy companies. As Dino says, "Hard work always pays off."7) Tough Choices and Overcoming FearIn 2003, with a deficit looming, Rossi made plans for some hard-nosed budget cuts. Of course that got the special-interest groups all riled up. They started "bombarding the constituents in my district with TV ads, mailers, and phone calls, each carrying the prediction of the dire consequences my budget would bring. They were trying to bludgeon me into [doing] what they wanted to do, in effect threatening me."Did Dino back down? Do I even need to ask?"I refused to pander," he writes. Despite the nefarious efforts of the teachers' union and the "very partisan SEIU labor union," he balanced the budget while preserving a pay increase for novice teachers and defending the state parks policing budget.Such thrift came naturally to the son of an educator who "raised seven kids on a school teacher's salary." The proud son further recalls, "Our family weathered our share of tough times. I remember growing up drinking powdered milk and looking for sales on bread at the Prairie Market, so that we could freeze a few loaves for later."Tough times, indeed—and a useful lesson during our current national economic crisis. Yes, I could be afraid of losing my home, my job, and my health insurance. But, per Rossi, that's just what the pessimists and unions want—for me to make undisciplined choices governed by fear. But, like Dino, I refused to give in to that fear. Instead I resolved to hoard frozen bread in my basement, drink only rainwater collected from my roof, eliminate all frivolous spending choices, and invest in the one surefire asset of value in the coming hard times: Dino Rossi by Dino Rossi.I went back to the bookstore and bought the entire unsold inventory, which I now have stacked with me in my basement, where I study them by candlelight. They'll be like gold bars for the new millennium.And if the economy gets any worse, I'll move into a tent in a state campground. But, thanks to Dino, I won't be afraid.8) You Are Only One PersonAnother thing Rossi has learned: "Some people are afraid to delegate tasks, because they think they lose control of the process. Successful delegating is set within a specified framework and with clear and established goals based on the delegator's principles."OK, I asked myself, what are my principles? Easy: less work for more money. The problem is that journalism is a low-paying field that demands long hours and discourages napping at one's desk.So I looked to Rossi's direct example: Book writing is a hard business. Even with wide margins, large type, and extra chapter-ending lessons provided by ghostwriter and "personal development expert" Chris Widener, 199 pages is a lot of white space to fill.Could I also subcontract my journalistic duties by hiring a ghostwriter? Unfortunately, Widener was too busy authoring The Angel Inside and The Ultimate Success Series (according to his Web site, which also includes a "Success Store"). But thanks to the legion of unemployed journalists now reduced to freelancing on the Internet (where there are no benefits or pesky unions), I have been able to outsource my daily journalistic duties—including this very article that you are now reading! I delegated every word of it!It just goes to show that, as Dino says, "Any leader who plans on succeeding should make delegating a skill they learn to use often—and use well."9) A Positive Attitude Always Wins"Naysayers. No matter what you do in life, they will always be there." But, Rossi recalls, he didn't let the pessimists sway him when he ran for governor four years ago. "I believed it was time for change, and because of that I believed we could win."Three recounts later, he didn't quite win, but that didn't dim his enthusiasm. "Having a positive attitude can be likened to having a vision," says Rossi.I took that mantra and put it into action. I was sick and tired of the cynics, pessimists, and defeatists dragging me down. My vision was positive, I decided, and my positivity was visiony. It's the same thing, which is to say a winning combination.So when the Debbie Downers and Donald Don't-cha's said there was no way I could sell deep-fried kitten-on-a-stick at my new Delridge fast-food stand, Dino's Cat-a-Teria, I proved them wrong. It's locally sourced, organic, and free-range. I'm creating value and selling enterprise solutions! Next venture: Dino's Appendix Hut, health care for busy on-the-go professionals who don't have time for filling out a lot of unnecessary medical forms. Providers are board-certified from Belize, Belarus, and some of this country's finest veterinary institutions. And it's a drive-thru!10) The 80/20 Rule of Leadership"80 percent is selling the vision; 20 percent comes from defining details." Rossi often road-tests his ideas at the grocery store, he explains: "What I'm trying to do is reduce a concept that's detailed or complex down to a single sentence or two. This is not 'dumbing down' the message, but simply streamlining it so busy people get enough information to make a [sic] educated decision."I enacted this streamlined form of leadership at my local Safeway: Approaching the most attractive woman in the frozen-food aisle, I said, "Hey, how about we trade these Eggos for Peso's and go get us a drink?""What makes you so special?" she asked."Let's not get bogged down in trivial details," I replied. "I am a rich, successful journalist and entrepreneur—enough said.""I'd need to know more about you.""The margaritas there are excellent.""No chance, loser. And what's with the teeth veneers and fake tan?"Plainly this woman could not fully grasp my vision. So I took my leadership to the produce section.11) How I Ended Up With a Dog Named DubyaEarly in Rossi's 2004 gubernatorial run, one of his kids, eager for a new family pet, wrote to President Bush asking for his help. The president responded with a handwritten note of support. And thus the pound-rescued mutt was named Dubya. It was a golden campaign moment that earned Rossi considerable TV exposure. When the two Republicans met at a Spokane fundraiser, Bush said with his characteristic confidence, "Dino, you are going to win."Rossi, of course, did not win his race, yet he declares, "We all benefited from the experience and learned a great lesson in life: anything is possible."This was a hard chapter to apply to my own life. Its lessons seemed contradictory—unless the takeaway is that everybody likes dogs. Then I realized, upon studying Rossi's Web site, that he has successfully distanced himself from a damaged brand. While his 2005 book portrays a warm personal relationship with the president, there doesn't seem to be a single mention of Bush on the current version of Rossi's Web site.Confidence, optimism, relentless good cheer—those are the qualities one wants in a leader, and in a dog. Those who are successful and always forward-looking consider "how much greater the possibilities may be than you might think." That's what separates the new dog, the winning dog, from the old dog that drools on the carpet and can't hold his pee. Old dogs can be put to sleep when the kids are at soccer practice. (Or just haul them out to Carnation and remove the tags.) New dogs drive marketing campaigns; they launch brand awareness; they follow tennis balls into the future, where all good customers (and voters) can be found.That's why I decided to name my new dog Obama.12) Family, the Governor's Race, and the FutureCurrent polls for the Rossi-Gregoire rematch are again very close. Three years ago, when writing this book, Rossi was evidently still smarting from the previous election. He alludes ominously to "the left-wing group Moveon.org and government employee labor unions" and to misdeeds in King County—"a Democratic stronghold, [that] did not appear to be following its own regulations, much less state law."He observes that "hundreds of felons had voted illegally" and "many precincts where my opponent was strongly supported somehow had more ballots than the number of voters.""We knew we were up against a political machine," says Rossi. Yet he claims not to be angry about the 2004 election. Instead, he writes, "We learned that you can handle anything, no matter how difficult, with grace and decorum. We refused to become bitter."So on my 12th and final day of Rossi, I vowed to embrace his cardinal values of "a positive attitude, perseverance, leadership, integrity, and courage."That was just before the police came to arrest me for wire fraud, operating an illegal bank, predatory lending, practicing medicine without a license, animal cruelty, and violating a restraining order in the frozen-foods aisle.But I refuse to become bitter.And that is why, trial date pending, I will be voting for Dino Rossi on November 4. I know what good he has done for me—and what good he can do for the email@example.com