When legislators return to Olympia — only several weeks after a failing to deal with all of the state’s $2 billion budget gap in a special session — will gay marriage be a distraction or just another bill on the calendar? The answer lies in the fact that Gregoire — like so many of her predecessors — is a two-term Democratic governor without any claim to a legacy.
If the tendency for personal ambition is coded into our DNA, all politicians can claim common genetic heritage, Gregoire being no exception. If the book closed tomorrow on Gregoire, her story would be a tale of mediocrity set against a backdrop of government failure.
During her tenure, state spending has increased; at the same time revenues sag and deficits balloon. State transportation planners endeavor on a mission that balks at focusing on the reduction of congestion on roadways, a failure that impedes economic growth and wears away the quality of life that was once part of Washington State’s appeal.
In her lame duck year, it’s now or never. Gay marriage is the first item on a legacy-themed scavenger hunt, a diversion from the fiscal instability that affects all Washingtonians, gay or straight. Ironically, in the process of building a legacy, Gregoire may be sowing seeds of an even less flattering record in office.
By introducing socially divisive and ideologically driven legislation to legalize gay marriage in Washington State in the midst of a state budget crisis, Democrats in Washington State are ripping a page from their federal comrades’ playbook, but without paying attention to the lessons of events so recent they cannot really even be called history.
In 2009, as unemployment surged and the integrity of the federal budget strained during the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, Pres. Barack Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress were also facing a crisis of conscience. Would they use the tremendous power of one-party control of government to remedy the nation’s cancerous fiscal condition, or embark upon a crusade to capture the progressive Holy Grail – a national healthcare system – one that would produce a body count among friend and foe alike?
Democrats, looking down the path to a possible destination where reasonable solutions to budget problems might be found but one that would run them through a gauntlet of special interests that would present obstacles at every turn, chose to turn away. Though temporarily victorious with the passage of Obamacare, the tone of the debate – a shrill exchange of straw man arguments, red herrings, smears and slanders – the scorched earth tactics employed drew clear battle lines, and voters were encouraged to adopt the lexicon of combat in their own political dialogue.
Voters punished Democrats for their dalliance and the harsh reward for dozens of Democratic politicians who put their necks out to pass Obamacare, the $1.7 trillion stimulus package, costly bailouts of private corporations, and other controversial congressional acts was to be swept out of office in the Republican wave that raced across the country in the 2010 elections.
It should be no surprise that so little has been accomplished by our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. In the climate created during the passage of several major pieces of divisive and unpopular legislation – of which Obamacare was only the most costly – collegiality became a very, very bad word.
Gregoire has placed the Washington State Legislature on a similar path, a way to avoid the difficult route to fiscal responsible that must navigate a briar patch of incestuous relationships between the government and Democrats’ political patrons.
The course is all too tempting, not for the marginal and superficial change it would make for same sex couples wishing to formalize their relationships – same sex partnerships already enjoy the same rights and benefits in Washington State as do heterosexual married couples – but for the opportunity to take a vacation from the responsibility to govern. The ensuing fray has the very real potential to force legislators in Olympia to dig in and in the polarized atmosphere that follows avoid discussions to reach agreements that will benefit the people of the state.
In placing a social issue ahead of more important fiscal problems that impact every Washingtonian, Gregoire ironically cements her legacy not as a champion for civil rights, but as an uncourageous political escapist and an architect of political gridlock.
[photo credit: City of West Hollywood]