It is said that 2016 is the year of “political outsiders.” Large numbers of citizens are angry that Congress can’t get anything done. They are upset by the strident partisan politics being played in Washington, DC. As a consequence, polling data shows many view political experience as a negative.
In my opinion, the problem has been caused by electing people who are politically inexperienced, such as the tea party and political ideologues of the right and left.
Instead, we need leaders who have conducted themselves with civility, bipartisanship and moderation. We need elected officials who have proved they can lead successfully and get things accomplished for the public they serve.
In what other field would you want someone totally untrained and inexperienced to serve you? A doctor? A carpenter? An accountant? A chef? A plumber? Hardly.
Governing is enormously complicated. Politics is a craft that requires considerable knowledge, skill and sensitivity to be successful. I believe it is “the highest calling.”
When Spokane’s Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, this is what he said: “The reason I am here, they tell me, is that I played the game a certain way; that I played the game the way it was supposed to be played. I don’t know about that, but I do know this; I had too much respect for the game to play it any other way, and if there was a single reason I am here today, it’s because of one word: respect. I love to play baseball. I’m a baseball player. … That’s who I am.”
I’m a political Ryne Sandberg. I’m proud to be a politician. I find great joy in politics. I believe in playing the game the way it is supposed to be played — with civility, moderation, bipartisanship, respect for the other players, attention to ceremony and protocols, and a commitment to continued learning from current and historical political figures.
In my public service career, I worked with hundreds of elected officials at the local, state and federal level. Those who were successful, effective public officials were also political Ryne Sandbergs. Those who were only in for themselves or special interests lacked credibility and trust. So, they were ineffective.
The best example in our state’s history of the political outsider is Gov. Dixy Lee Ray. She boasted that “I am not a politician.” Truer words were never spoken. She wore it as a badge of honor, as if the profession was worthy only of contempt. Consequently, she was totally inept in the job. She had no idea how to work with the Legislature, the capitol press corps and other elected officials. Consequently, she ended up in political wars with them. As soon as Washington voters had a chance, they voted her out of office by a landslide — in the primary.
Fortunately, there are many examples of the opposite. I will mention two. The first is a Democrat, former House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler. The second is a Republican, former congressman, lieutenant governor and legislator Joel Pritchard. I had the honor and privilege to work closely with both of them.
Rep. Kessler and Congressman Pritchard were remarkable for their ability to work across the aisle to get things done. They taught new members important lessons, like, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets credit.” They were renowned for their civility.
Pritchard summarized effective legislators: “They know how to work in a bipartisan fashion on most issues and respect the sincerity of those who oppose their point of view.”
One important quality I noticed about both of them is that they didn’t hold grudges — knowing that “Today’s adversary may be tomorrow’s ally.”
Most importantly, you trusted them, respected them and knew their word was their bond. In my opinion, those are the kind of elected officials we need. Not outsiders.
Our nation and our state have serious problems. We need elected officials like Lynn Kessler and Joel Pritchard, not Dixy Lee Ray. We need elected officials who are dedicated to the craft of politics, like Ryne Sandberg was dedicated to the craft of baseball.
2016 needs to be the year of the “political insider.”
Sam Reed is a former Washington secretary of state.