Governor prefers ultimatums and negativity

By Angie Vogt, political commentary

“Positive reinforcement.”

I remember learning that term somewhere along the way, probably from a sociology or psychology class. It’s the notion that we get better results by rewarding good behavior rather than “punishing” bad behavior.

In the workplace, for instance, office morale will plummet when everybody is forced to work late on Friday because the boss is mad or unsatisfied with worker performance. Employees understandably feel patronized. Employers that use this method are often either condescending in their treatment of employees, or they just feel incompetent in their leadership — and punishing bad behavior is their pathetic attempt to control behavior.

On the other hand, positive reinforcement uses incentives to encourage employees to work harder, but ultimately gives them the freedom to either “kick it up a notch” or to just continue the status quo if they have other more pressing priorities going on (like family demands or an illness).

Positive reinforcement treats individuals with the dignity they deserve as working adults and autonomous human beings with free will. Negative reinforcement reduces individuals to subjects who must win the “approval” of the person(s) or agency appointed over them.

We will have a clear choice between these two types of leaders this November in the race for Washington state’s governor. For three and a half years, Gov. Christine Gregoire has failed on every account to bring news ideas to very old problems.

A most pressing issue is our state’s transportation problems. In the past 20 years, our state population has increased by nearly 20 percent with practically no expansion of roads to accommodate this increase. The ill-fated Proposition 1 transportation package submitted to voters last November was a project of monumental proportions, but loaded with an agenda governed by special interest groups who are intent on forcing people out of their cars and into mass transit (negative reinforcement).

The fact that citizens were forced to read through such a ridiculous and complicated proposal that required nothing short of multiple degrees in accounting, engineering, urban planning and design demonstrates the vacuum of leadership in Olympia.

Here’s the bottom line: People want to spend less time in bottleneck traffic congestion. The state’s own audit of the Department of Transportation noted that the department has shown a consistent failure to prioritize traffic congestion as the number one problem our citizens face. The WSDOT, instead, listed safety, maintenance and preservation as its top three priorities. Preservation? Of what, the status quo?

Gregoire began her career in public bureaucracy 39 years ago when her Republican challenger, Dino Rossi, was in the fourth grade. This explains her apparent allegiance to government agencies and the status quo as well as her persistent disregard for serving the interests of taxpayers by using negative reinforcement as her preferred leadership style.

Among her many negative reinforcement ideas, a few stand out. First on the list is her ultimatum to King County and Seattle leaders that if they don’t make a decision regarding the Alaskan Way viaduct, she will tear it down by 2012. From her negative reinforcement style of leadership, I’m sure she was proud of herself and saw this ultimatum as a show of force.

In reality, it looks like a cop out — “you people make a decision so I don’t have to.” And of course, if their decision is a bad one, she escapes any accountability, since she put the whole decision in their lap. Keep in mind, the Alaskan Way viaduct transports 100,000 vehicles a day in the heart of downtown Seattle. This is her plan…an ultimatum with no proposals of her own on how to fix the problem. This is a serious matter of public safety.

By contrast, Dino Rossi’s transportation plan, released on Tuesday, gives incentives for consumers and businesses to choose alternative-fueled vehicles, eliminating the sales tax from hybrid and electric vehicles over the next 10 years and converting all state government vehicles to hybrid and electric cars by 2015. This is called leadership by example.

Even after telling voters during her 2004 campaign that she would not increase the gas tax, one of her first actions after taking office was imposing the highest gas tax increase in U.S. history, but without any clearly identified plan with the increased revenue. “Pay us now, we’ll explain later” is another example of paternalistic “we don’t have to explain ourselves to the peon taxpayer” approach to governance.

With a shoestring campaign budget, Rossi’s campaign team managed to spell out a transportation plan that explains the funding and goals of 27 transportation projects, to include the dilapidated ferry system, the floating bridge, the viaduct and countless others. It also makes traffic congestion relief the number one priority.

In an ironic twist, Gregoire has endorsed Barack Obama, the presidential candidate for change. The best change we could hope for in Washington is a change of governor — 39 years in government bureaucracy is long enough.

Federal Way resident Angie Vogt: vogt.e@comcast.net. For past columns and further commentary, visit www.soundupdate.com.

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