Friday, January 6, 2012

Remarks for the Gorton Lecture Series

Remarks for the Gorton Lecture Series
Discovery Institute, Seattle 
January 5, 2012
Hans Zeiger

The next generation of leaders faces huge challenges: how to be good neighbors in a global economy, how to combat terrorism, how to balance between markets and government, how to remain economically competitive, protect our environment, eradicate poverty, and make health care more affordable. In the upcoming state legislative session, we’ll deal with some questions that will remain with us for the foreseeable future: how do we have sustainable budgets with increasing public demands? What about marriage equality? What about education reform?

Now, I started out with some bold questions because I was once advised that I should do such things. When I was running for the legislature in 2010, Slade Gorton was kind enough to speak at a fundraiser for me, and I began my speech with a list of thank yous and acknowledgements. After I had finished speaking, Slade pulled me aside and said to me, “Always begin a speech with a bold statement or question. They’ll forgive you for not starting with the thank you’s.” So I’ve tried to practice that.

Today’s program is about lessons like that one and others from Slade Gorton.

But first I will mention some acknowledgements. First I have to mention John Hughes, who we planned on having here today, but some personal circumstances have prevented him. John is a veteran journalist who spent years at the Aberdeen Daily World and was hired by Secretary of State Sam Reed as the state’s historian for the Legacy Project, to record the stories of our great Washingtonians. John and I met for lunch in Olympia last year and I think we sat there for two hours talking about our state’s political history, and I knew I had found a new friend. And he is a first class biographer. He wrote a biography of former Governor Booth Gardner, and now this one of Slade. It is marvelous, and I hope you’ll be inspired to purchase a copy tonight.  

I also want to thank Steve Buri and Bruce Chapman and the Discovery staff here for making this possible. And I want to mention our Advisory Board members, some who are here:

Dr. Michael Allen, Professor of History, University of Washington
Steve Buri, President, Discovery Institute
Dr. Jeff Cain, American Philanthropic, Poulsbo
Hon. Bruce Chapman (senior advisor), Discovery Institute
Dr. Reed Davis, Chairman, Political Science and Geography Department, Seattle Pacific University
Trent England, Vice President of Policy, The Freedom Foundation
Dr. Robert Kaufman, Professor, Pepperdine University, biographer of Henry M. Jackson
Hon. Mary Ellen McCaffree, former legislator, agency director, author
Ralph Munro, former Washington State Secretary of State
Rep. Kevin Parker, 6th Legislative District, Spokane
Hon. George Scott, Ph.D., former State Senator, historian
Dr. Andrew Tadie, Professor of English, Seattle University
Dr. John West, Discovery Institute

Why do we need a program on civic leadership? For a few reasons.

The first reason is many young people in the Puget Sound region are looking for ways to make a difference and become leaders. I’ve become distinctly aware of this as a young person myself in public life, as I have opportunities to interact with young professionals and college students. They call us the Millennial Generation, and we haven’t really had time to prove ourselves yet, but we have big aspirations. You combine that with the history of big aspirations that Steve talked about in this region, and that’s a powerful combination. There is this great desire that is absolutely radiant in this room tonight to do great things for the communities in which we’ve been blessed to live. We feel this not only as an ambition but as a responsibility. And if our generation is going to be any good at leading, we must study how to do that, we must learn from previous generations, and we must form friendships that last through the years. 

A second reason why we need to focus on civic leadership is because of a certain breakdown in that type of leadership that has occurred. We have delegated many of the tasks of traditional community leadership to highly-trained and specialized bureaucrats. This has come both with benefits and costs. The benefits are that human problems can actually be addressed with some effectiveness on a large scale by experts and centralized agencies. The costs are to relationships. Policies take the place of human relationships. Leaders become accustomed to thinking about regulatory solutions and bureaucratic solutions instead of community-based leadership where people can solve their own problems. The decentralized network of families, neighborhoods, businesses, houses of worship, and private associations of all kinds is capable of doing far more than we sometimes think. And I would argue that a strong community, with all of the free institutions that make it up, is a heck of a lot better at loving and caring for people than any bureaucracy ever was.

The third reason why this program is important is the civic tradition of which we are part. We are inheritors of an experiment in self-government and individual liberty, and all of history should teach us to be grateful for that. Every generation must do its part to continue this tradition, so here we are today. Here in downtown Seattle, we’re reminded of our own part in that tradition. Many in this room have done, and are doing what they can to make the best of this experiment in self-government, whether you’re in business, education, religion, media, or public service.  

I myself am conscious of carrying on a tradition greater than myself. I recently learned that I sit in a seat on the State House floor that was occupied 50 years ago by a representative named Slade Gorton. Since we’re about to go back into session, I’m planning to bring something down with me to put on my desk: bobblehead.

If you study the book by John Hughes, you will discover a man who has grappled like few others in his time with the greatest political and civic questions. How do you order a good society? What kind of leadership is necessary? What kind of character is necessary?

In Slade Gorton you will find a man whose life is devoted to making a difference for Washington State. Without him, our part of the country would be very different. Seattle would be very different. He has left a mark on the biggest institutions around here: the Seattle Mariners, Microsoft, Boeing, the tribes, the environmental movement, the timber industry…the Discovery Institute. He sits on its board. In all of these things he has been at times controversial, always resolute, always just, and always the smartest guy in the room.
His public career spans more than half a century. He was elected to the legislature in 1956 where he was the architect of the most successful Republican governing majority in state history. He served for twelve years as Attorney General and argued 14 cases before the Supreme Court. He did an impossible thing in 1980 by unseating Warren Magnuson from his Senate seat, in which he served for 18 years. He became one of the most respected statesmen of his generation, an intellectual power in the Republican majority of the 1990s. He continued his service thereafter as a member of the 9/11 Commission, and his continuing contributions to Washington are too numerous to count.

In Slade’s final days in the Senate 11 years ago, Peggy Noonan wrote a wonderful column in the Wall Street Journal celebrating his public service. She wrote about some of the extraordinary tributes that were made by his colleagues on the floor of the Senate. And I want to just read a couple paragraphs from that column:

“Over and over Thursday the speakers spoke about two things. Because Mr. Gorton was wise and calm and highly intelligent, he was listened to. And because he wasn’t a showboat, he was respected. He wouldn’t just pop off with a statement and hope to get credit for it. He was the last to run for the microphones, though he wasn’t above noticing who did. He spoke on the floor less often than some other senators; he spoke in private councils. He probably authored fewer bills, but shaped more law through advice and addendum. In all of the praise you could hear the sound of an institution defining itself, showing through what it said what it values and honors.

“I think it was saying this: In the clamor of big egos bumping into daily events that is Congress, we do notice who gets things done, who really works. Who really thinks, who contributes, who has a long-term historical view, who is a patriot, who doesn’t care who gets credit, who will quietly counsel and help you with your problem and not capitalize on it or use it against you, who stands not only for the party but the country and not only for the job but for the institution—the Senate, this august chamber, which can actually make a difference in people’s lives, and which is a strong and necessary element in our republic.”

Well I don’t think I need to say much more. Slade is going to talk for about fifteen minutes about his leadership lessons, and then I’ll follow up with some questions, and finally we’ll open it up to your questions. So I introduce to you the smartest man in the state, a great Washingtonian and a great statesman, Slade Gorton.