The stress cracks, sagging walls and cleavages in the foundation of our Democracy can continue to be ignored only at our own peril. The conspiracy theories used to justify sedition. The refusal to acknowledge free and fair elections. While a number of factors fuel the discontent, there is something the government can do to stem the tide and strengthen the foundation: Help people. Do it fast. Let everyone know.
The public has always been, to varying degrees, sympathetic and supportive of an activist government. People want good schools, clean and healthy food, and plentiful salmon and orcas and are willing to pay (something) for them. Even today, with those who believe being required to wear a mask to protect oneself and the community is a form of tyranny and others who refuse to accept the results of a free and fair election, the public is strongly supportive of the mission of an activist government, even if not the actual practice.
The recent rise of faux populism, cynically and selfishly manipulated and exacerbated by the former President, certainly can thrive on socioeconomic discontent. But not often paid enough attention is the oxygen it gains from perceived ineffective government as they are sold a bill of goods that the ineffective government can and must be replaced and it’s the autocrats who can do so.
While the State of Washington government is generally regarded as inhospitable to the “fraud, waste and abuse” of some other states, Washingtonians trust and faith in their government has diminished significantly in the last 30 years. When Bill Gates Sr. lead a ballot measure campaign in 2010 to tax high income earners, most polls showed relatively strong support. It failed largely because while most residents supported the idea, they were likewise convinced the legislature could not be trusted to resist the temptation to increase taxes on middle income earners shortly thereafter.
Not only does the governing Party in Washington state have the philosophical and moral obligation to be highly competent and effective caretakers of public resources, it also is, quite simply, a political imperative. If the public actually sees and feels the careful and well run stewardship of its government they will very happily reward the party responsible with their loyalty and their votes.
Democrats in Washington need follow this simple guide:
Help people. The pandemic has caused incredible economic pain across the state and as caused so many to ask for help as they have their work cut back, at best, or become unemployed. The state’s Employment Security Department is charged with distributing both federal money and the revenue generated from employers paying unemployment insurance taxes. Even putting aside the multi-hundred million dollar fraud it suffered last year, and notwithstanding there are many good people there working hard, it is an agency well known for its bureaucratic slothiness, its lack of responsiveness to claimants and its inability to get payments out to people fast, with courteousness and conscientiousness.
This is an especially important time for ESD to serve the public with diligence and compassion. Sure, the pandemic has caused unprecedented need and never-before seen numbers of claimants, but the agency can and must do everything it can to adapt, streamline outdated processes, shed unneeded red tape, encourage and reward creativity and outside the box thinking.
Do it fast. To really mean something to people when they are in great need, help needs to happen without haste. The state has about 64,000 employees. Amazon has 80,000 in Washington state alone. There are many fundamental differences between a private company and a government charged with protecting the public interest. At the same time a ot can be learned from Amazon as they have become the biggest in the world by an almost maniacal commitment to customer satisfaction.
The ESD must reduce the backlog, adopt employee flex time so claimants can call and talk to someone other than regular business hours, and take all necessary measures which will increase ease and decrease claimants time to file their claims.
Let everyone know. The typical partisan sniping notwithstanding, Gov. Inslee is a relatively stoic and modest man. He, and therefore his Administration, is particularly bad at communicating to the public about the things that make a positive difference in people’s lives and taking credit where credit is due. This must change and the case for an active and effective government must be made with the tangible results of a citizen-driven public service sector experienced by unemployment claimant, ferry riders, licensed fisherman and foster kids.
The Party that believes in the power of government to do good has been in charge for 36 years but has become apathetic and sanctimonious about the need to truly be “customer-friendly” and show the taxpayers (and voters) it cares about more than the appearance of serving the public but actually doing so with compassion, effectiveness and real efficiency.