Globalizing Puget Sound

Beware bipartisan preaching of the regional prosperity gospel.

Let's give a couple of cheers for values voters. Whether or not you agree with the far left or the far right, we can celebrate the fact that each side embraces the old-fashioned idea that what we believe down deep should matter in politics. For the far right, it might be God, gays, and guns; for the left, it might be Gaia, gay marriage, and gun control. Both sides are convinced they are fighting for the soul of America, and often they are reacting to the same signs of corruption: a trashy popular culture, an abundance of selfishness and gluttony, a deep suspicion of the government and media.

While the far left and far right might throw brickbats at one another, the real problem isn't where they disagree—it's where the so-called political center finds agreement. In the wake of the election, the voices of power are urging Democrats and Republicans to come together to push a common agenda.

Sounds like good old American common sense. But in fact, business interests have hijacked the so-called middle path. Increasingly, values issues are marginalized, and the mainstream is being drafted to devote itself to doing the bidding of economic interests. Thus, both major parties are committed to virtually unfettered free trade and a belief that our economy is attached to a global agenda that can trump national, regional, and local interests.

That mentality is reflected here at the state and local levels with a bipartisan, pro-business agenda. The governor's race between Christine Gregoire and Dino Rossi was a case in point. Both tucked "values" issues under the rug—especially Rossi, whose Potemkin moderation was essential to his success. Voters were presented with a debate that was strictly argued in economic terms: Who would create the best business climate to keep Washington "competitive"? Both floated ridiculous numbers and unrealistic "plans." But all of them envisioned the governor as Shill in Chief for industry. Rossi was openly paid for by the building lobby and touted his salesmanship and management skills; Gregoire looked a lot like outgoing Gov. Gary Locke in a skirt, politically speaking, and showed an enthusiasm for spending public resources on economic development.

Our state's leadership has completely surrendered to corporate interests: Christine, Dino, Patty, Maria, Gary, Rob—regardless of party, their job is to take care of Boeing, Microsoft, and the Building Industry Association of Washington. Gregoire promises bennies for biotech, Rossi would pave highways for the concrete lobby, and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has never met a Boeing pork project she didn't like. Across the board, Olympia's sugar shacks are doling out the crack that energizes our politicians to pursue the bottom-line-driven business agenda. The 7E7 deal was a sellout of the public by pols across the board, showing that even in hard times the have-nots can't give enough to the threatening, whiney haves.

You blame Tim Eyman's tax-driven insurgency for screwing up the state? Please. He hasn't done half the harm as have our elected officials, who continue to move billions and billions of dollars of the state's tax burden onto the little guys. Microsoft dodges taxes, Boeing gets more subsidies and tax exemptions, and you might just get a job in return. Unless outsourcing it makes more sense.

Have you heard of the Puget Sound Regional Council's Prosperity Partnership? You will. It's a nearly million-dollar effort to create a single business and legislative agenda for Puget Sound country. The partnership is made up of chambers of commerce, economic development groups, labor groups, lobbyists, major industries, and corporations. Their goal is to mobilize the region behind a single economic strategy: to create 100,000 new jobs by 2010. To do this, they contend, we must adapt to the global economic realities of the 21st century. That might well mean ignoring local interests and values: The operating assumption is that the region is too balkanized. We can infer from their agenda that they believe we need a different economic and political command and control system and more centralized planning that transcends, their Web site says, "artificial boundaries." It's also one that brings plenty of powerful, nonelected business leaders to the table. Welcome to the next level of "globalization," Seattle.

This Friday, Nov. 19, the council is hosting a regional economic summit meeting, appropriately enough at Paul Allen's Qwest Field Event Center—a monument to billionaires who feed at the public trough. Here, the regional prosperity gospel will be preached. It behooves us regular folk to attend and see what these folks have planned for our future, to study their underlying assumptions with rigor, and to take an active role in shaping—or possibly derailing—an agenda that is divorced from noneconomic and "values" factors.

The conflation of public and business interests is a major and growing problem in Washington, though not a new one. At one time, the influence peddling in Olympia was run not by Boeing but by the railroads. Indeed, even among our nation's founding fathers, including those who favored centralized government and commerce, there were those who worried about the future of democracy in the hands of the wealthy special interests. In 1788, Alexander Hamilton wrote:

"As riches increase and accumulate in few hands; as luxury prevails in society; virtue will be in a greater degree considered only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature. . . . It is a common misfortune, that awaits our state constitution, as well as all others."

We must not let the "common misfortune" of corporate and personal greed be the default bipartisan consensus at the national, state, or local levels.

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