Gregoire’s Advice for Tough Times
‘Set Your Partisanship Behind You, Now It’s Time to Govern’
By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
After six years in office, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire knows the importance of trade and partnership in North America. She is the chair of the National Governors Association and recognizes the many challenges facing all states, but especially those 29 new governors who took office this year.
1) States are confronted with a number of daunting challenges—Medicaid, pensions, education. What can state leaders do to create a climate in which people focus on solutions for these problems?
“In my time as governor, the majority in both my House and Senate has been Democrats. And obviously I hold the governorship. This year, knowing full well we face unprecedented times, we all set a path of working in a very bipartisan way and not letting politics and partisanship get in our way.
“We’re in a special session. … It has been an example, in my opinion, of how you deal with very tough problems in unprecedented times. You all set aside everything else, realize you work for the people, work together and get the job done. We will have done reform on unemployment insurance, reform on worker’s compensation, the biggest reform in a hundred years, reform on pensions, restructuring state government, making a more sustainable budget, not for one biennium but well into the future. In the end, I think the record will show it was one of the more successful legislative sessions ever and the reason for it is people said, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves, let’s work together.’”
2) Just agreeing to work together and get things done?
“My state of the state was about, ‘Now is not the time for partisanship and bickering and blaming and all that; now’s the time for us to work together.’ The Senate really took up that mantra and started working that way. They did come out with a bipartisan budget, which is pretty historical, and now we will have a bipartisan budget.”
3) What do you envision as the most important qualities of a successful state government in the 21st century?
“Last summer, I put together a Transforming Washington budget committee. ... We had a website for people to get engaged and get involved. At the end of the day, government has to be absolutely flexible, which as you well know it is not; absolutely adaptable; seeing technology as its friend.(We need to be) making sure the lesson learned here is: We have sustainable budgets for the long haul and a rainy day fund in case we should run into tough times, with an absolute emphasis on the key to the future, which in my opinion is education.”
“What we’ve done here is, we’ve said to ourselves, ‘If we had a blank sheet of paper, what would state government look like now and into the future?’ It was very insightful.
It showed how siloed we are, how we’re driven by yesterday’s way of doing business.
… So I think all states—it’s not unique to us—all states are going to have to fundamentally change, just like every business that’s going to survive this recession and frankly every family has to had to change their way of doing their own business at home in order to get out of this recession. And so I don’t think we go back; I think we go forward. We learned a good lesson here.”
4) Washington’s Government Management Accountability and Performance program has set the standards for performance measurement. Why has it worked for Washington?
“I think anybody would say that it’s a success. We use data. We have performance measures. We use it as an opportunity to train managers for succession purposes because it gets you at a table looking at real-time data and asking you to solve the problem. It sets some new standards. We have oral forums. They come before my senior team, to include myself, and there we have reports out. We build leadership when we do that. We celebrate our successes and then set higher standards. When things aren’t working, we go after why not.
“A couple of examples: Child protective services responds to incidents of alleged child abuse or neglect. They need to do it within 24 hours when a child’s life is at risk. When we started, we had 65 percent compliance with that. We’re now at 99 percent.
Our traffic fatality rate; we review that constantly. We are now in the lowest ever in state’s history. We set academic benchmarks for state’s community and technical colleges, which increased student performance by 26 percent over a three-year period.
Those are examples where it works.
“People get engaged they get involved. Agency directors show up, not their seconds. It’s a wonderful learning tool, but it’s not done in a threatening way. We’re here together, we’re trying to solve some problems; we’re going to work together to get the best results we can for the public. It just works for us.”
5) What advice would you give to other states interested in replicating GMAP?
“I warn people, ‘If you’re going to do it, it’s not for the faint.’ It takes discipline. It takes a laser-like focus. It takes time and it takes continuity. We implemented it in June 2005 and I have not let up one bit. I still go to them myself. We celebrate our successes. And when things aren’t good, we ask the tough questions and we hold people accountable.
It’s been a growing experience and I would suggest it to anyone in terms of getting real results. It also grows real managers, real leaders who are problem-solvers in government.”
6) And you have everyone at the table that might be involved in a particular issue.
“We live in silos. … The panels are around subjects, not around agencies, so it gets them really working together. When things aren’t working, it isn’t one agency, it’s all of them working together. “
7) What does your health care plan look like for Washingtonians?
“We’ve definitely evolved. Early on we had what we call the blue ribbon commission. We set up a five-point strategy—evidence-based medicine, chronic care management, health prevention and promotion, information technology and transparency. We’ve been successful, but not as successful as I think we can be. Our goal is more affordable health care through higher quality health care. We have an assessment program, a health care assessment program. We look at procedures and we ask do they work and should be we paying for them, should the private sector be paying for them? We’re saving at least $30 million a year on that.
“Now we’ve started round two. We’re implementing the Affordable Care Act. We’re one of the first states on the exchanges. We’ve also said it isn’t just about health care reform in the Affordable Care Act; it’s about the fact that my state budget is getting eaten up by health care inflation. I can’t spend as much money as I could on education because I’m spending it on health care inflation. We brought in the business community. We brought in providers. We brought in insurers. We brought everybody to the table. We set a goal of inflation of no more than 4 percent across the state (annually), with savings projected of $26 billion over 10 years for our state. Our part in it is a proposal we’ve given to Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius in her innovations center to allow us to get away from fee-for-service and do some really more advanced things to allow us to have the kind of flexibility that we think will deliver better outcomes and not be focused on how do we pay and how much do we pay. We’re taking it to a new level, but we’re taking it statewide, not just in Medicaid in our state, but having everybody get engaged and involved.”
8) How important is international trade to Washington?
“It’s our bread and butter. We’re the most trade-dependent state in the country. One in three jobs directly or indirectly is related to trade in my state. We export about $53 billion a year as of last year. Boeing is a big part of it, no question about it. But it’s information technology. It’s industrial machinery. It’s wood. It’s medical products, a big agriculture sector. We’re the leading exporter on things like apples and cherries and pears and hops and frozen potatoes.
“Our total trade import/export was $145 billion in 2010. With a state population that ours is, you can see how important that is to our success. Our ports, our big ports and our small ports, had a record year last year. It’s our ticket out of this recession, but it is our future.”
9) Are there any particular protocols the U.S. should have with Canada to encourage trade and cooperation?
“We have a fantastic relationship with British Columbia. We exchange our cabinets once a year. They have a new premier and one of the first things she did was come down and have lunch with me last week. We have an unbelievably lot in common. We often say we may have more in common (with British Columbia) than we do with some of our fellow states and fellow provinces. At one meeting of joints session of our cabinets, we started talking about getting British Columbia ready for Winter Games in 2010. Crossing our border, whether it was for tourism, commerce, whatever, was becoming a real nightmare. They said they could not be successful if they couldn’t get enough people across that border in a timely way with their Olympics. We came up with the idea of enhanced driver’s license. Today it is a very popular item in my state. So you don’t have to take your passport, you get across with this enhanced driver’s license.”
10) What is it about Washington that is attractive to businesses?
“Kind of a mantra in my state is innovation. We find ourselves to be a very innovative state. We lead the nation in patents per capita, for example. We’ve got a huge number of startup companies. … We have wireless technology to software to renewable energy to aerospace. Global health is a new burgeoning field for us. We have all of those things going for us. We have a highly educated workforce; 30 percent of our workforce has at least a bachelor’s degree. We’ve got great research institutions. We’re very diverse people, which helps us in trade and all of that. We have a tax structure that’s very appealing to business. We have low-cost renewable energy that’s important for new sectors like composites and at the end of the day, what always ranks in the top tiers of companies that are here or want to come here is our quality of life. It rains, but it’s absolutely gorgeous. We’ve got arts and sports and any recreational activity you could think of.
“It’s a full, rounded appeal that we have for businesses, whether it’s our fast way of processing permits at state level, whether it’s our quality of life, whether (it’s our) innovative culture. And the business community is pretty united in our state. … It’s more like a family of businesses here in our state.”
11) How does the state help the University of Washington cultivate its strength as a top-tier research university?
“Every time I go on a trade mission, I bring the university with me. We have exchanges of students and faculty. We sign agreements. We meet alums in every country we go to at large receptions, typically at the ambassador’s home. I created the life sciences discovery fund. It’s a partnership between our two research institutions, University of Washington and Washington State University, and the private sector. We have a star researcher program where we try to attract and retain innovative faculty and we have a new emphasis on commercialization of the research. UW ranks as the 16th best research institution in the world. It is (the) largest public university in terms of grants. You could see why it is so important. It’s an economic engine in my state.”
12) The nexus between federal and state government has never been more charged with challenges. How does state government navigate these challenges?
“The public doesn’t see federal government and state government. It’s all government to them. We’ve taken the attitude (of) we all have to work together, so I have not, in the last several years, had this attitude of, ‘We’ll just send it off to local government.’ We’ve been a real partnership. We have done everything we can to help them and they’ve partnered with us. I’ve been trying to set that same relationship with our partners at federal government.
“I’m currently chair of the National Governors Association. We have 29 new members. The first thing I said when they came in was, ‘Set your partisanship behind you, now it’s time to govern. You can be partisan in the Republican Governors Association or the Democratic Governors Association, but here at the National Governors Association, we’re charged with the responsibility to solve problems and to govern and we do that together.’ The Western Governors are really close on natural resource-related issues; we partner all the time. We bring in our colleagues from Canada to work with us. We bring in local government. … It’s about working together as governors. Nobody knows what it’s like to be governor other than another governor. We share, we trade ideas, we work together. That’s how we really have got to see how to work our way through this time.”
13) What have you learned in your six years in office that might be helpful for those new governors?
“We had an orientation retreat after they were elected, before they were sworn in. We really shared with them. This is probably the most difficult time to be governor since the Depression, so we’re all in it together. And whatever they do, listen, keep in focus, understand whom they represent. It isn’t a stakeholder; it’s all the people. Whatever decision they make, however they go about their business, keep in touch, keep in tune, listen, educate, be a partner with the public that they serve. So at the end, the public understands they’ve got their best interest at heart.”
14) What are your goals for the next few years in office?
“As a governor, you set your goals and then circumstances take over, so my number one priority now is get us through the recession and that means I’ve got to put people back to work. I’ve got to make it affordable for state and families and businesses to provide health care and I’ve got to make sure we’ve got an eye on the future, which means we have to have a highly skilled, highly educated workforce—so education has got to be paramount. They’re all connected.”
15) What message would you have for those state policymakers attending CSG’s National Conference and North American Summit?
“Now is the time for us to stand taller than politics and divisiveness and start reaching out and listening to the public. Find a way to step up to their problems and concerns and solve those problems. This nation is the greatest nation on earth. Don’t take it for granted. We’ve got to continue to work together to maintain that. We’re the greatest place to live; we’re the greatest place to work; we’re the greatest place to raise our families.”