TV Star

The Democrats have chosen someone to respond to the State of the Union address, and that person is our Republican governor.

THE DEMOCRATS have been run out of Washington, D.C. The GOP hit the trifecta in gaining control of the legislative branch in 2002 by winning a majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. With the White House and Supreme Court already under control, the Republicans now hold all three branches of government, dug in like Dick Cheney in his bunker, or Saddam in his palaces.

The one bright spot for Democrats is at the state level—a small consolation prize indeed. The Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) points out that Democratic governors rule 24 states with a combined 53 percent of the U.S. population. Oh, and some of the states are really big.

Well, so what? This is a little like arguing that having five random properties and the B&O Railroad equals a monopoly with hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place.

It’s also inconsistent with mainstream Democratic Party principles to suggest that administering a collection of states (less than half) is somehow equivalent to holding the national government. That’s states’ rights talk. Forget the old Dixiecrats; the Dems are now the Pixiecrats, politicians who believe in toeholds instead of strongholds. I guess you go with what you’ve got.

Second, bragging about running states means even less when some of those governors rule like Republicans. Case in point: our own Democratic governor, Gary Locke.

LAST WEEK, LOCKE gave his annual State of the State address in which he outlined a vision for Washington that would cut spending, resist general tax increases, slash assistance to the needy, delay teacher pay raises and funds to cut class size, stimulate business growth, and streamline the permitting process and environmental review for construction projects. He largely overlooked the environment and proposed little more than some prescription-drug assistance to deal with our looming health care meltdown.

Did I say Democrat Gary Locke? He’s more Republican than John Spellman or Dan Evans.

Locke’s vision was protested by 20,000 marching teachers and applauded by Republican legislators in Olympia. At best, it exemplifies only a marginally more compassionate version of “compassionate conservatism” than Bush and his henchmen espouse. The best the state Democratic chair could assert to The Seattle Times after the speech was that he believes that “Gary does have very strongly held Democratic Party beliefs.”

Down deep. Somewhere. Maybe.

While one can argue —which I won’t— that Locke’s vision may be realistic in terms of Washington’s terrible budget woes ($2.5 billion deficit looming), it’s ludicrous to put that man in the position of being a national spokesperson for “Democratic Party beliefs,” especially when his own are so well disguised. But that’s what the Democrats have done. Locke, who happens to be chair of DGA, has been selected to give the highly visible speech following George W. Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address on Jan. 28. (Spoiler alert: The state of the union—it sucks!) Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle thought having a governor carry the party’s torch was a good idea, since the states are suffering so much from the current economic mess—Washington, in fact, could be a poster child for this. And, certainly, governors don’t lack credibility for their experience and skills: Four of the past five presidents, after all, were former governors.

But how perfect—and embarrassing—that the Democrats picked Locke.

He represents exactly what’s wrong with the party, a group so unsure of its core beliefs, so rattled in its ability to lead, that it merely responds with ploys, tweaks, and cave-ins.

YOU HAVE TO GIVE Locke credit for consistency. He has always put business before the environment and played various budget games to keep things juggling along. But what kind of legacy does he have after six years in office, and as he anticipates running for a third term? Education? Health care? Transportation? Business climate? Welfare? The environment? Tax reform? Can you name one major area that has improved because of the leadership of Gary Locke—even areas he maintains are his top priority?

Locke declared an emergency to hold a special election to get Seahawks Stadium built. But when it comes to a real state crisis, he throws up his hands and declares that times are so bad, we’ll just have to do less with less. He proposes a vision Tim Eyman could love. Perhaps it’s all a cynical ploy to disarm the Republicans by becoming one of them. Yeah, that’ll show them.

And it’s not like this is working for him, either. The charm of babies, being an Asian role model, and having a telegenic wife who looks like a real model has gotten old as the quality of life in Washington has steadily eroded on Locke’s watch. The same day his national speaking gig was announced, a new Elway poll showed Locke’s approval ratings at an all-time low: 30 percent overall, down from 67 percent; 29 percent for his management of the Legislature; 28 percent for his vision. He’s not fooling anyone, right or left.

Except the national Democratic Party, apparently, which thinks this is the man to put in makeup to challenge the president and inspire the faithful. “Hi, I’m Gary Locke. I’m not a real Democrat, but I play one on TV.”

If the Democrats were really smart, they’d give the rebuttal to Martin Sheen. At least he’s an actor you can believe in.

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