Opinion

Locke's legacy is big things left undone

Early in Gov. Gary Locke’s first term, I started a list of reasons why he’d be re-elected in 2000.

The complaints had already begun about his lack of leadership in Olympia, and not just from Republicans, as Seattle newspapers indicated, but from Democrats, too. Privately, of course.

They were frustrated over his tendency to leave controversial actions and decisions to them or others while he waited to see which way the wind was blowing with the public. He’d make a deal and then back out at the last minute for fear of aggravating the wrong people.

I wrote that the reason he waited so long to get married (the second time) was because he couldn’t find a girl the Washington Education Association liked.

“Gary has two flaws,” one of his cohorts said of him. “Buyer’s remorse and amnesia.”

A lot of his indecision, I felt, was that he was shooting for not just one or two but three terms as governor, hoping to emulate Dan Evans. He didn’t want to make any waves too early in his 12-year plan. Every move was calculated as to how it affected the political future of Gary Locke.

He already had the advantages of being a handsome, personable man with a good-looking wife and two (now three) cute kids and his place as the first Asian-American governor on the mainland. Nobody questioned his intelligence or abilities. He was just cautious to the point of near-paralysis when it came time to be a leader, rather than just minding the store.

But as time went by, things happened that generated my list that convinced me he had nothing to worry about as far as being kicked out of office.

1. This onetime King County deputy prosecutor pulled out of giving the commencement speech at The Evergreen State College on the same program as a convicted cop killer. This, at the request of law enforcement officers who would not forgive that.

2. He came to the rescue of the boat lady, who was found on her husband’s sailboat housed with his dogs and so badly injured she couldn’t walk. Locke openly denounced his own Social and Health Services employees for letting the situation get out of hand.

3. He opposed the killing of any more whales by the Makah Indians. There was nothing he could do to stop it but he publicly stated his disapproval of it and had most people with him there.

4. When Initiative 695 passed, mandating $30 vehicle license tabs, he said it was the will of the people and the state should not take tough actions against the people to deal with it.

5. He announced he wanted to cut the state property tax and give checks to property owners.

6. He sued the Yakima Indian tribe for trying to tax non-Indian businesses on their reservation.

7. He supported the three strikes law for criminals because his grandfather was held up once.

My list stopped there after his re-election but I started another one listing things Gary Locke did in his second term to show that he would dare to be a leader, that he would be bold, innovative and challenging.

You’ve seen that list in the editorials and farewell accolades given Gary Locke as his second term came to an end.

I always liked Gary Locke despite his tendency to cave to big unions and spend all our money and then some. I think he backed out of going for the third term because at the time he feared he would be defeated. He probably was right. But freed of the necessity to please, he became the leader he aspired to be, and would, as he says now, have been re-elected one more time.

He wanted to be remembered as the education governor. In an interview with him, I once asked him what was the guts of the problem other than keep throwing money at it. “We don’t have high expectations of our kids,” he said. “Parents don’t set high expectations and teachers haven’t set high expectations. We reward failure rather than success. And teachers should be tested for their knowledge of basic skills before they enter the classroom.”

Makes sense. Maybe that’s his next career. College president. That’s the way Dan Evans did it.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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