Flynn's Harp: Dan Evans and thoughts on change (7-11-12)
Posted on 7/13/2012 by Mike Flynn
Occasionally we run across something from yesterday that causes a sense that change isn’t necessarily always for the better. And perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the political realm.
That thought occurred to me a few days ago when I had the opportunity to read a speech by former Governor and U.S. Senator Dan Evans to the January 1995 Economic Forecast conference in Seattle.
It was the day after Republicans, as a result of the transformational election of 1994, assumed control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years and, with three dozen new GOP legislators, the state House in Olympia.
Evans, who himself had bucked a Democratic landslide in 1964 to win his first of three terms as governor, referred, at the opening of that speech, to “day two of a new era,” then joked, “Or is it the Newt era?” That was a reference, of course, to the new House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had orchestrated the overwhelming takeover of the House of Representatives by Republicans.
I got a copy of the speech from Neil McReynolds, then a top executive at the old Puget Sound Power & Light Co., and chair of the board of the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County, which put on the event at which Evans was keynoter.
McReynolds, who had been Evans’ press secretary in Olympia when he and I met in the late ‘60s, is constantly running across decades-old documents in his files and, finding this one while we were visiting, he thought I might find the speech interesting.
Politics has provided several swings since that Evans’ speech when Republicans were coming to power halfway through Bill Clinton’s first term. But maybe the swings, either to the left or right, haven’t always made things better.
What I found most interesting in reading Evans’ talk was the reminder of him as an elected official who was impossible to pigeonhole ideologically. As governor and later as U.S. senator, he avoided ideological rigidity and found good ideas might sometimes spring from the Democrat side of the political aisle. And that dumb ideas could sometimes be offered by his fellow Republicans.
Thus at a time when polarized political positions characterize decision-making, reflecting on Evans, and actually many who were like him, including Washington’s late Democratic Sen. Henry M. Jackson, make it obvious that politics doesn’t have to require ideological polarization.
Before outlining in that speech a series of ideas “to propel Seattle and King County into world-class economic status,” Evans blasted “talk show hosts screeching about waste in government,” proponents of term limits and a balanced-budget amendment, environmental extremists, and excessive regulations that stymie growth.
And he also took to task the nature of campaigning. So in what could be a comment about the unfolding 2012 election rather than a reflection on 1994, Evans noted “We have just concluded the nastiest election in my memory. Virtually all campaign advertising was enormously distorted and negative.”
“By constantly trashing our political leaders, we also breed disrespect for our own system, of government,” Evans said. “The result is a new political landscape dotted with constitutional amendments and initiatives designed to protect citizens from ‘evil’ politicians.”
Of two ideas whose proponents have continued to seek traction since that “new era” that Evans referred to as dawning, he told that 1995 business audience: “The balanced budget amendment is a loony idea that is meaningless until we decide how to keep a national standard set of books so we can measure balance
And of the idea of term limits, Evans offered: “As a voter I am outraged by those sanctimonious term limiters who would steal from me the freedom of my vote.”
But in addition to hitting “those talk show hosts who cater to the base emotion of people,” he took to task “the politicians who blithely promise what they know they cannot deliver,” and “those rigid environmentalists who will see you in court if they don’t get all they seek.”
Thus he has always been a leader in what I and many feel is an unfortunately disappearing breed, those who view ideas on their merits rather than insisting that any new idea must be vetted based on where it fits ideologically.