People are at least as important as policy when assembling a new administration, so the decision by Gov.-elect Jay Inslee to hire a headhunting firm to help identify new Cabinet leaders is an encouraging one – if they have a broad mandate to bring fresh thinking to Olympia.
Washington’s executive branch has been in Democratic hands for 28 years. We endorsed Inslee opponent Rob McKenna in part because that long an uninterrupted grip on the government bureaucracy creates a staleness even the most energetic new governor might have difficulty overcoming.
A budding Republican coup in the state Senate has already enlivened policy discussion on the legislative side of state government.
The Olympia firm retained by Inslee, Karras Consulting, has a long record of finding talent for the state, and many Puget Sound-area local government entities. Among its finds for the state are the chief economist for the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council and executive directors for the Public Disclosure Commission and Higher Education Coordinating Board. At the county and city levels the agency has located human resource directors, health directors and directors of information services.
Notably absent, at least on the Karras website, is any mention of work for a local government in Eastern Washington. That’s a big blind spot that Inslee, who made much of his roots in the Yakima area, must not allow to persist.
Inslee has asked all the incumbent Cabinet members to reapply. At least one, Paula Hammond at Transportation, has already done so. Mike Armstrong, a former Republican legislator from Wenatchee with strong transportation credentials, has said he might apply. The heads of Labor & Industries and the Department of Health and Social Services have already said they will be moving on.
Transportation, L&I, and the Department of Employment Security are particularly important to business. Filling at least one of those positions with a Republican, or a Democrat sympathetic to business needs, would signal an understanding that the status quo is not going to reignite an economy that will soak up the many Washington workers looking for a job.
Candidates from the private sector should not be overlooked.
Credit Inslee with making an out-of-the-box choice for chief of staff. Mary Alice Heuschel has been superintendent of the Renton School District and was one of three transition team co-chairs. She was one of four nominees for national superintendent of the year in 2011 and has a reputation for innovation that will be invaluable as the new governor looks for ways to hold the line on taxes while satisfying a Washington Supreme Court order that the state better fund schools.
This will be another challenging year in Olympia. A fresh team with proven administrative ability will be a big asset to the new governor.