Conscious choices

The Weekly Volcano talks to our beloved state Rep. Dennis Flannigan about what the hell is going on in Olympia

By Paul Schrag on January 15, 2009

Funny thing politics. Just when everyone starts to believe in it again, it becomes so convoluted and overwhelming that no one knows how to engage in the process.

As the state legislature returned to Olympia this past week, there was quite a cloud hanging over our poor elected officials. Currently facing a $5.7 billion budget shortfall, and hard choices about how to dole out money offered under proposed state and federal stimulus packages, legislators are no doubt scrambling to prioritize. And they’ve got plenty of help — lobbyists, cities, associations, education institutions, industry reps and others are becoming a mob, desperate for money, desperate for help, and desperate for influence over the people holding the purse strings.

Everyone wants their piece of a relatively small pie this year.

Those of us who can’t afford to send a private contractor to Olympia to advocate on our behalf are left with elected officials. So as this year’s 105-day legislative session began, we asked one of the people we trust not to bullshit us (at least not too badly) about what all of this means, where we’re supposed to go, and what we’re supposed to do.

I mean, that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Ask the people in charge? 
 “Unlike in the Robert Frost poem, there is no well chosen path, or otherwise,” says Rep. Dennis Flannigan, D-27th.  “There’s just a field – we have to choose a direction.”

Well, crap.

I guess that’s the natural result of watching eight years of incomprehensible political corruption unfold — we lose direction. Also lost is faith in both the public and private sector, says Flannigan. These are the kinds of intangible issues that must be considered as we go about dealing with all the tangibles.

Perhaps the most important intangible issue is the faith we’ve lost in ourselves.

 “I think it’s been such a difficult eight years for people to respect being an American,” says Flannigan. “We all failed to listen. We all failed to pay attention, and see our own participation.”

So assuming we can get back in the game, what then?

“We need to ask: can we cross the aisle and participate?” asks Flannigan. “There has to be some faith in all the people who we have learned to demonize (i.e. political and industry leaders, and people whose politics we disagree with). Most of us just stay where we can spit on the side we don’t agree with.”

Uh-oh. Talking to people that I disagree with? What about all the hours I’ve glued to those radio shows, television programs, books, magazines and blogs dedicated to exploiting and profiting from the great polarization of American politics? 

Well, thank God for a crisis. ‘Cause when everyone is sinking, only the most recalcitrant partisan douchebags continue playing political ping pong on the deck of the ship.

“When everybody is drowning, it’s true that it doesn’t matter who finds the life raft,” warns Flannigan. “But I still think it’s important that we make sure the life-rafts meet regulation. We have to make conscious choices.

“I believe we’ve got a flaw — that we’re desperately trying not to get the money to the people who really need it. We’re saving banks, but somewhere we have to find a way to help the homeowner who’s losing their home, or the woman who can’t pay her rent. There are an enormous number of things that can be done. I think it’s better to have a lot of people making enough to get by, rather than just a few who are more than able to get by.”

Chew on that, but don’t forget to swallow. We’ve got work to do.

This is the first of many conversations, dear Volcano readers. We promised Mr. Flannigan that we wouldn’t call him every time we wanted to talk about politics, so we hope you visit to tell us about the issues that most concern you this year.

We’re listening. We promise.