By Duane Davidson
Last week, I was honored to address the YMCA Youth Legislature at their opening night session in the Washington State House of Representatives chamber. Now 70 years old, the program has earned a well-deserved reputation as a game-changer for participants. In four days in Olympia, after months of preparation, Washington state high school students took part in elections, law-making, and the art of persuasion and policy-making.
This year’s participants displayed focus, insight, and collaboration. They spoke with strong conviction about the importance of how we behave toward each other in the course of debating and deciding public policy. All these are qualities that our state’s lawmakers possess in abundance, and will be drawing upon as they move toward the endgame this year to reach agreement on the state’s FY 2017-19 budget.
Against this backdrop — of professional legislators in an overtime special session to make difficult, high-stakes decisions that affect every resident of the state — the work of the YMCA Youth Legislature takes on added importance. Here is some of what I shared with the student lawmakers, cabinet officers and media corps when we met in the House.
Every year many good ideas die in the Legislature. Year in, and year out, on average only 20 percent of legislation that gets introduced, makes it through, while 80 percent dies. What does emerge into law is the product of give-and-take. This starts with how we approach one another.
Treat each other with respect. Pretty much no one agrees with another person 100 percent of the time. Often enough, we all disagree on some issues with our parents, siblings and friends. Even with people of your own party you are likely to find disagreements on the best way to solve a problem.
Step back and listen. Find compassion, and whenever you can, compromise. If you belittle people’s ideas or opinions, it’s really unlikely that they’re going to want to work with you on anything now or in the future. Civility is needed in life and in the public arena.
Build coalitions. You think a bill you’re sponsoring is a great idea? You’ve got one vote at the start: your own. To convince both chambers to pass that legislation, you’ve got to convey your message to your colleagues of why it’s a good idea, of why they should be interested and why it’s good for them and their constituents.
Bipartisanship is more than just a word that’s expedient to throw around. We have to actually walk the talk. I was elected State Treasurer in November 2016 – and became the first Republican in this position since 1953. The person I selected as Assistant State Treasurer had previously served as Thurston County’s elected Treasurer. And she is a Democrat. Then I appointed two policy directors, one Republican and one Democrat. The Treasurer’s office on financial matters will work hard to find mutual ground whenever possible.
Modeling respect, learning to listen, and building coalitions to solve problems are all crucial to your success as youth legislators and in much of what you’ll do in life. Another key ingredient is specialization, including mastery of an important topic or policy area.
Duane A. Davidson is the Washington State Treasurer.