Clyde Ballard sits in the eye of a political hurricane. And he can let fly with some pretty good gusts of wind, himself. As Speaker of Washington state’s House of Representatives, this courtly, likable gentleman from East Wenatchee has been a case study in why term limits are a bad idea.
Drawing on skills and knowledge from 16 years in the Legislature, Ballard has united inexperienced, fractious colleagues to enact significant legislation - such as last year’s welfare and juvenile crime reforms.
People who live a long way from Ballard’s handsomely paneled Olympia domain are better off as a result.
However, as the speaker outlined goals for the upcoming session last week, he seemed to be setting the stage for intergovernmental conflict rather than better government service.
Ballard said he’ll push for laws to attack drunk driving carnage, via the seizure and auctioning of repeat offenders’ cars. But he and other leaders brushed off the question of funding for the local governments that would have to implement these laws.
Ballard rejects a gasoline tax hike to improve Washington’s crowded, rutted, potholed roads - roads that will, this year, kill more motorists. He indicated he’ll raise money, instead, by committing the state’s auto license tax to roads. But he seems to feel new money should go only to state highways, not to city and county roads, which need and always have received a share of state transportation funding.
Ballard said he’ll be “a fanatic” this year about public schools that graduate young people who can’t read. He’ll cut their funds. He’ll summon university officials responsible for schoolteacher training to his office for a deserved tongue lashing.
He justifies this chilly attitude toward local public servants with a list of gripes: Transit districts waste money that ought to go to street maintenance. Cities and counties do a bad job of communicating needs to legislators and are run mostly by Democrats. Teachers use failed methods to teach reading.
Ballard’s choice of issues - drunks, efficient roads funding, literacy - reflects the judgment that has made him a success.
Now, though, it’s time to set aside the rhetorical billy club and resume the skillful search for middle ground where ingenious legislation wins the votes for passage and delivers well-aimed help to the people of Washington.
Ballard and his colleagues need to think about families that will die on unsafe roads this year. They need to think about the local motorists who send Olympia a lot of gasoline and license taxes but get little of it back to fix the battered local streets they drive on most. They need to think about first-grade teachers who do the best they can with too little help from parents and too much interference from the long line of bureaucrats and politicians above them. They need to think about the local cops and prosecutors who need funding and reinforcements to blitz drunk drivers.
Legislators need to transform their rhetorical wind into helpful policy. They pulled it off last year, so perhaps they can do it again.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board