Opinion Columns & Blogs

Each of us can influence change but it takes personal involvement

However tempting it is to write my last column for The Olympian's 2010 Board of Contributors in the form of a letter to Santa, I think I'll resist the temptation.

I don’t mean to imply there’s nothing to hope for this year. But, somehow, expecting an appreciable uptick in economic indicators, productive work for those displaced from their regular employment, and affordable health care for all seems like a lot to lay at Santa’s doorstep.

Relying on politicians to do all the work may be equally unrealistic. Our problems belong to all of us, after all.

Part of my aim in writing this column over the past year has been to emphasize the power of virtually everybody over the age of 11 — and some even younger folks — to effect positive change.

Up to now, I have not written directly about lobbying, testifying at legislative hearings, or writing letters to elected officials. However, the legislative session is coming up, and for those who are tired of bickering and posturing over what sometimes seem to be recycled issues, there are still plenty of opportunities to challenge the conventional wisdom.

The time is ripe for taking on an unpopular issue that deserves a second look — particularly if that issue has the potential to save the state money.

Washingtonians who pin their hopes on the initiative process would do well to consider that swaying 25 state senators and 50 representatives — a simple majority in each house — may actually be easier than gathering over 240,000 signatures to get an initiative measure on the ballot.

It’s also encouraging that the legislative process relies on the participation of all kinds of people.

For example, every year, school children swarm the Capitol, lobbying for some invented issue so that they might learn something about the legislative process. One memorable controversy surrounded whether the state candy should be Almond Roca (supported by children west of the Cascade Mountains) or Aplets and Cotlets (favored by youth east of the Cascades).

This year, I’m all for giving kids a real issue to grapple with — one that concerns them, like low graduation rates, statewide. Why not equip young people with the skills to address the concerns of their opponents before taking their ideas to the seats of power?

Several years ago, I wrote a short book for my younger sister, who had been asked to serve on a board of directors. My chapter titles were things like “Differing Opinions, Handling Opinions Characterized as Facts, and Identifying Alternative Courses of Action” and “Steering the Conversation Back on Course.” Recently, these skills have seemed in short supply.

One way of improving performance in these areas is to take on an issue that everybody loves to hate.

So, for the gadflies among us, consider challenging the drive for increased oversight of public entities, even as regulation and enforcement in the private sector have diminished.

Although audits in the public sector and in the private sector play an important role in analyzing whether organizations are working effectively and efficiently, I wonder if people realize that every dollar of public funding that is spent when one agency monitors another is a dollar that is not available for other programs.

Similarly, every dollar that is spent to settle a lawsuit in which the state is a party is a dollar that is not available to invest in something that might have broader value.

The state Legislature passed a law back in the 1960s, allowing the state to be sued just like any private party — up to any amount of money.

Does that policy still make sense today?

Endings are hard, but I leave you with this: Get involved and Godspeed.

Kiki Keizer is a lawyer and a member of The Olympian’s 2010 Board of Contributors. She can be reached at olympian.opinions@gmail.com.