Local elected officials are taking turns bashing the President Donald Trump piñata, but they have their own messes to clean up.
GOV. Jay Inslee was honored in the nation’s capital Friday with a national leadership award from a mental-health advocacy group, Mental Health America. As viewed from that other Washington, Inslee looks like a reformer — and maybe a presidential candidate — for his work to integrate mental health and primary care, and a few other good ideas.
The view from out West, however, is more mixed. Inslee is also responsible for the ongoing mess at Western State Hospital, which has been a money pit of dysfunction for years.
The hospital has just a few months to spring back from financial life support or risk losing its federal funding after failed audit after audit. A few days ago, a federal judge in Seattle overseeing a case against Western State blasted the Inslee administration for slow hiring, lousy planning and “a lack of candor” as she upped fines against the state to nearly $10 million since July.
The split view of Inslee’s record is indicative of this moment in local politics. Washington state is having a star turn in the national political scene, led by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s successful assault on President Donald Trump’s immigration order. Inslee is being floated as a way-too-early presidential candidate because of his ferocious criticism of Trump’s refugee ban.
Other local politicians are also whacking at the Trump piñata, especially Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine. But like Inslee, and his mixed record as a mental-health reformer, Murray and Constantine are at risk of using the glittery object of Trump’s toxic brand to distract from their own management troubles.
Constantine swings at Trump’s immigration and family planning proposals even as the county’s failing waste water treatment system has polluted Puget Sound beaches with untreated sewage and forced people from befouled homes in South Park. Murray threatens to sue Trump over his sanctuary cities policy in the midst of a vast and growing homeless crisis, and offers yet another huge tax proposal.
Voters are capable of holding two ideas in their minds at once. Liberal bastions like Seattle should push back on Trump’s worst policies. But we also want good, competent local government. Nationalizing local politics won’t get that sewer treatment plant fixed, or Western State Hospital running, or the local homeless-response system functioning.
Don’t let elected officials distract attention from their unfinished business.
Murray, for example, needs to show that the $100 million-plus already budgeted for homelessness over the next two years is being well spent before asking for more. Inslee — national award or not — has work to do to fix the mental-health system and pushing for a bipartisan legislative plan to fully fund basic education.
Voters need to be holding them accountable and not fall for the political head fakes toward the other Washington.