Saturday, December 27, 2014

Speaking the Language of America

Here's an essay I wrote for the John Jay Institute for a symposium on the future of conservatism:

Most Americans are conservative, at least in one respect. Their basic political goal is to conserve the country’s greatness. They are driven by their affection for the people, the land, the opportunities, the local communities and civic institutions, the traditions and heroes, the ideas and ideals of America. But deep as these affections are, they often lack a common language to convey them.

The language suited to this broad conservatism is rarely even to be heard among movement conservatives today. Conservatives end up in camps, each responding to one or another set of problems facing the country. Tea Party conservatives talk about the rise of big government. Social conservatives talk about the degradation of the family and culture and threats to religious liberty.

Fiscal conservatives talk about taxes and regulations that harm businesses. So it is that movement conservatives go around sounding pessimistic. They talk about limits, not about possibilities. Rarely do they express the variety, complexity, beauty, and hope of American life. Our challenge, then, is not one of policies so much as it is one of poetics—of the language we speak.

I say this as a policymaker. In three election cycles and four years in the Washington State House of Representatives, I have a learned a few lessons about how to communicate conservative principles in a reputedly liberal state. Before I was elected, I was working on a PhD in Political Science because I wanted to understand political thought and rhetoric. In becoming a grad school dropout, I have continued my studies in other ways.

I have studied politics in legislative committee hearings and caucus deliberations, campaign committee conference calls and precinct officer meetings, League of Women Voters candidate forums and party booths at the State Fair, city council and school board meetings, Kiwanis and Rotary luncheons, historical society and water utility board meetings, neighborhood picnics, church men’s groups, charity breakfasts, PTA dinners, and countless face-to-face chats with constituents at Anthem Coffee in downtown Puyallup, Washington.

Many of the people I have interacted with in the last four years are anxious for a generation of conservative statesmen and women who will stand for the things they love, not merely oppose the things they dislike. They want leaders whose conservatism is expressed in a language of affection.

Let me suggest three key words that can help movement conservatives to communicate more affectionately and, therefore, effectively with the country.

The first word is community. Shortly after my first election, I settled on a vision statement that I have since repeated to audiences of all political stripes: “We need to build up our communities, not our bureaucracies.” I have yet to hear anyone disagree with this. If anything, I have heard from a lot of young people who are eager for public leaders who celebrate the value of communities. Perhaps it’s why Paul Ryan—famous for his emphasis on civil society in the tradition of his mentors Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett—received the highest support for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination among 18-34 year olds in a recent poll by Young evangelicals, yet to identify with either political party, are deeply concerned about poverty, which is best addressed by strong communities rather than bureaucracies. If we need more of anything in America, it surely isn’t bureaucracy. We need moms and dads, grandparents, friends, volunteers, entrepreneurs, mentors, and coaches.

This leads to a second word that conservatives should include in their vocabulary: service. It is a wonderful thing that the John Jay Institute is working so effectively “to prepare principled leaders for faith-informed public service.” Recently I have had the pleasure of helping to launch a similar but smaller effort called the Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Named after former Washington State Secretary of State and Discovery Institute founder Bruce Chapman, the Center arises from a recognition that politics can be good, not merely something to be tolerated. Politics is a noble thing in a free society, where it is expected of citizens that some among us will volunteer to lead. Citizen leadership can come from small business owners and blue collar workers, teachers and journalists, doctors and lawyers. Today we need a new generation of conservative citizen leaders who are willing to prepare themselves for the big public challenges of our time and step up to serve their communities.

Of course, service is more than an activity of government. Service means volunteering in a homeless shelter, tutoring a child, or caring for the elderly. It means organizing a block watch, teaching Sunday School, cleaning up a roadside, or giving time to a local Scout troop. In these ways, service can be an alternative to government itself. As young Congressman John F. Kennedy said in 1952, “Only by doing the work ourselves, only by giving generously out of our own pockets, can we hope in the long run to maintain the authority of the people over the state, to ensure that the people remain the master, the state the servant. Every time we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of government, to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of the people.” A self-governing society is a caring society, a society where neighbors serve one another, especially the most vulnerable. Service must be central to our conservative message.

Finally, conservatives should remember that the word that matters most to America’s families is children. James Q. Wilson once declared the first precept of welfare reform: “Our overriding goal ought to be to save the children. Other goals—reducing the cost of welfare, discouraging illegitimacy, and preventing long-term welfare dependency—are all worthy. But they should be secondary to the goal of improving the life prospects of the next generation.” Indeed, we should advance free markets and promote limited government, we should win elections and enact reforms, and we should do all of it insofar as it furthers the pursuit of a bright future for our children. This pursuit is shared and understood by America’s families. Moms and dads care about the quality of the schools that their kids attend, the affordability of college tuition, and the safety of their neighborhoods. We must offer creative conservative policies that address issues like these and a language to express the signal importance of children in our vision of America.

Whittaker Chambers once wrote to William F. Buckley that “each generation must find its language for an eternal meaning.” We must do that today. The truths we love and the principles we Americans regard highest are unchanging. But we cannot get by on yesterday’s language. We do honor to those who have come before us in the conservative movement to adapt and to embrace the challenges of our own age.

Today we must speak an affectionate language, a language that expresses our love for the country. We need a language that celebrates community, service, and children. And of course, we need conservative spokesmen and women. The John Jay Institute deserves thanks for its work to prepare such people for the task ahead.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Give big by staying small"

A few weeks ago, hundreds of philanthropists gathered for the Exponent Philanthropy National Conference in Washington, D.C. Founded in the 1990s as the Association of Small Foundations, Exponent Philanthropy consists of “donors, trustees, and philanthropic professionals who choose to give big by staying small, working with few or no staff to make the most of their resources.”

Small philanthropy is integral to the American civic tradition. It is certainly integral to the civic tradition in my hometown of Puyallup, Washington. I serve on the board of one small foundation, an offshoot of the Kiwanis Club of Puyallup that over the years has raised an impressive number of donations and estate gifts from club members, mostly to benefit children in our town. Many of the gifts are designated scholarships for local high school graduates. Recently we approved grants for playground enhancements in the downtown park, a scholarship program for minority students in our county, a facility upgrade at the local library, and support for the food bank. 

Read more at Philanthropy Daily here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Place-based philanthropy

Most of today’s philanthropists strive to meet the needs of their hometowns, and some of the biggest names in American philanthropy include among their multiple areas of focus a program dedicated to their local community. But today there is renewed attention in philanthropic circles to the serious value of targeted local investments where the impact can be seen among neighbors.

The Aspen Institute recently hosted a convening of over fifty philanthropists to talk about giving locally. It was entitled, “Towards a Better Place: A Conversation about Promising Practice in Place Based Philanthropy.” The Aspen convening paper notes a “welcome trend towards supporting communities and places of high need.”

Read more at Philanthropy Daily here

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

100 years of community foundations

For the 100th anniversary of America’s community foundations, David C. Perry of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust have edited a volume of essays by community foundation leaders entitled Here for Good: Community Foundations and the Challenges of the 21st Century. It covers topics like the role of community foundations in facilitating collaboration among local stakeholders, rural philanthropy, and whether, as Douglas Kridler of the Columbus Foundation writes, “we go the way of newspapers, symphony orchestras, and other signs of community vitality that were under so much financial strain at the time of the writing of this book.”

The Cleveland Foundation was the first community foundation, founded in 1914 by lawyer and banker Frederick Harris Goff. Ronald Richard, present-day president and CEO of the Cleveland Foundation, writes in Here for Good that Goff’s model was “a permanently enduring organization flexible enough to address the needs and seize the opportunities of any era.” Today there are 700 such foundations in America with almost $50 billion in assets. In 2011, community foundations made grants of around $4.2 billion, more than 10 percent of the country’s total foundation grant making.

Read more at Philanthropy Daily here

Friday, August 8, 2014

Invocation at the Commissioning of 2nd Lt. Ross Zeiger

Our God, we are thankful for this occasion, for this nation, for this Corps, and for this Marine, Ross Zeiger.

We are thankful for the men and women, many of them here, who have been inspirations and leaders and teachers to Ross. We are thankful for those who have gone before Ross, whose courage runs down in his blood—men like his namesake and uncle Col. Ross Greening.

We are thankful for the blessing of this free land, and we ask that You would preserve it.

This Marine is going to serve a dangerous world and we ask for Divine protection.

He is going into situations that will require character and talent, and we pray that You would give what is needed for the time.

In Your Name we pray,


Monday, June 23, 2014

Hiring civic-minded millennials

Young Americans are getting involved in their communities in new ways. They join Giving Circles, participate in crowd funding campaigns, and use social media for good. They are also getting involved in philanthropy and service through their workplaces. A new study shows that millennials value employers that encourage volunteerism and giving.

 With funding from the Case Foundation, the research group Achieve surveyed 1,514 employees of more than 300 companies who were born after 1979 to find out how millennials express their commitments to the community through their work. Entitled the “Millennial Impact Report,” the study examines how young employees get involved with corporate social responsibility initiatives or “cause work.”

Read more at Philanthropy Daily here

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Social Impact Bonds

2014 Cascade Conference, SeaTac

In the 20th Century, if you wanted to solve a public problem, you’d build a bureaucracy and scale it up. Today, we’re living in the age of networks, where people can build all kinds of partnerships to collaborate and solve problems together. Innovative groups of people can solve problems outside of bureaucracies. 

And there are no more pressing problems facing our communities than those of poverty and educational opportunity.

Shortly after the 2012 election I was at a dinner with Skip Li, who was Dan Evans’ legal counsel and went on to found a charitable organization called Agros International which promotes economic self-sufficiency for poor families in Central America. We were talking about where Republicans need to go after the losses in the 2012 election. Skip said this: “Republicans don’t have a vocabulary for talking about poor and minorities, other than free-market talk. Republicans must recruit candidates with a heart for the poor.” 
And that really got me thinking—we need to do more than just talking about limited government. We need real policy solutions to the problems of poverty that confront our neighbors.

I was on a panel about poverty issues at the Roanoke Conference earlier this year along with Jeff Lilley from the Seattle Union Gospel Mission. Jeff said something that has stuck with me. He said that homelessness is not a resources issue, it’s a relationships issue.

I think that most center-right Americans would agree with that statement, but it’s not how we talk as a movement, and that’s to our detriment. Because homelessness is a real issue, and simply saying that limited government will solve it is not enough, just like saying that resources will solve it is not enough.

Let’s talk about the role of resources in connection to relationships. That is, resources should leverage relationships. Government indeed has a role in leveraging relationships and creating incentives.

I want to spend the next few minute talking about Social Impact Bonds. Social Impact Bonds are an innovative way for government to leverage relationships, engage the private sector in solving public problems, and drive cost-savings and program effectiveness. They work when there is money to be saved through prevention – dropout prevention, homelessness prevention, reduction of prisoner recidivism, or disease prevention.

I got interested in social impact bonds after reading a book by former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith called The Power of Social Innovation, which I’d highly recommend. 
At the root of this, I believe that we need to bring more innovation to the realm of human services.

We don’t tend to innovate at present. Government tends to be risk averse – we like to stick with what we already know. And various stakeholders have become protective of the status quo.

Innovation requires risk, but it requires incentives for profit that make the risk worth the effort.

In the social services realm, it requires the ability to attract social entrepreneurs and capital. Through Social Impact Bonds, investors can receive a return if their investment is effective, in other words if there are demonstrated results and savings to the state over time. This is good for the investor, good for taxpayers, and most of all it’s good for those who benefit from improved outcomes.

A growing list of states are adopting social impact bonds because they offer the promise of solving problems, not just funding and maintaining the status quo. Minnesota, Massachusetts, Utah, and New York City were among the first to get on board. Just this year a number of state legislatures have passed bipartisan legislation for social impact bonds. A headline in Governing Magazine in January said that “Pay for Success Programs will be front and center in 2014,” and they are.

The Harvard Business Review has named social impact bonds among the foremost “audacious ideas to solve the world’s problems.”

And when I introduced House Bill 2337 to bring Social Impact Bonds to Washington State this year, we had one of the most diverse coalitions I have ever seen on any issue. We had a number of Democrats on the bill, led by Ruth Kagi, the chair of the House Committee on Early Learning and Human Services, as well as Republicans like Chad Magendanz, Kevin Parker, Dave Hayes, Linda Kochmar, Maureen Walsh,  and Cathy Dahlquist. We had the Washington Policy Center and human services advocates in the same room testifying in favor of the bill. Education advocates, housing advocates, state employees, philanthropists, investors, liberals and conservatives have found common cause on this issue.

The libertarian Reason Foundation blogged in support. And the Seattle Times wrote, “This is a smart approach. Government alone cannot solve social problems, and the state must direct more money into education. Wooing investors to fund proven prevention programs is a win-win.”

We’ll press on next year and we’re bringing together stakeholders next month to strategize. And next year, I want to zero in a specific issue that we can tackle with Social Impact Bonds. It’s the issue of dropout prevention for low-income students. Everything during the 2015 legislative session will be linked to K-12 education. We need to attract new sources of funding to help our low-income students succeed in school.

Let me just briefly give one example of where investments could be put to good use. The example comes from McCarver Elementary on the Hilltop in Tacoma. Going to visit McCarver last year was one of the most inspiring things I’ve done as a legislator. 

A few years ago, there was 179 percent turnover among students within a single school year, and that’s tragic. That means single moms moving their kids from place to place to place. It means a kid’s world turned upside down as they leave behind their friends and their neighborhood, and you repeat that with all the other problems of poverty, and you’re talking about the conditions that lead to dropouts later on.

And McCarver had zero credibility with these low-income parents to get them involved in their kids’ education.

One agency that did have some credibility was the Tacoma Housing Authority. Some visionary leaders at THA decided to initiate an innovative partnership between the Tacoma School District, THA, and 30 nonprofits. They made a deal with parents: you can stay in THA housing for 5 years if you commit to staying there, getting involved in your child’s education, and improving yourself to become better educated and having a steady job. The Gates Foundation is tracking the project and showing amazing results.

After just a couple years, turnover has fallen from 179 percent down to 75 percent. Parents are feeling engaged in the school, they are learning skills, they have a sense of place and community that they’ve never had before. And that’s just the parents. Parents matter a whole lot. And the kids are improving their scores in reading and math. It’s amazing.

This is the kind of program that we could scale up if the private sector could come in with strategic investments through Social Impact Bonds. Let’s continue this work in 2015. This is about engaging the private sector in our response to public challenges. It’s about creating market incentives to solve problems. If you want to get involved in the discussion, come find me afterwards and I’ll let you know how you can help. Thanks so much. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ministering to Homeless Families

On Tuesday night, I stopped by the Puyallup Nazarene Church for a weekly meeting of the WrapUp Ministry, a campaign to raise congregational awareness of family homelessness and to get church members involved in supporting specific families. “These families don’t have a support network,” said Sheryl Ice, the volunteer who leads the ministry. “In order to break the cycle of generational poverty, you have to build relationships.” Read more at Philanthropy Daily.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Networks of Love

Easter is a celebration of Christ’s love for the world and a reminder of our calling to love others. Americans have always sought meaningful ways to express their love in service to others. Just as Americans value effective business models, we value effective charitable models. Indeed, the most famous early colonial speech was John Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity.” Read more at Philanthropy Daily.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Everest College Commencement Address

Everest College Commencement
April 4, 2014

Thank you President Wynne, ladies and gentlemen, graduates. Congratulations on finally getting to this great evening.

Most of you are going into service professions—careers where you’ll work with people to heal, protect, or promote health and wellness. And most of you will be right here in this community, making a difference in people’s quality of life every day that you go to work.

But let me challenge you do one more thing: get involved in community service. Many of you are already doing this. It can take so many forms. Tutoring a child, joining a service club, volunteering for a food bank, serving on a nonprofit board, or becoming active in your religious congregation.

In my service as a state legislator, I have come to realize the nobility of public service as well as the limitations of government. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it will take to solve the big problems that confront the South Puget Sound region. And government can do some things, but government can’t do everything. What we need more than anything else are volunteers who care about their neighbors.

Solutions to our community’s biggest challenges are within our grasp if we work together. You don’t need a PhD or a title like CEO to get together with friends to do something great. Friendship is the most powerful force in the world. That’s always been the case. What’s new is that we live in the age of networks—an age when anybody with a good idea can make a website, start a Facebook page, or Tweet 140 characters that will change the way people think about the world around them.

And speaking of brevity, we can talk all we want about making a difference. But let’s get on with the ceremony so you can get out and do it. Thanks for your commitment to a career in service to your fellow human beings. God bless you all.