Candidate for Pierce County Executive Larry Seaquist released full remarks from his State of the County address, happening this evening at 6PM. See the full text below, or click here to tune in live.
Thank you all for joining us. I’ll start this general assessment of the state of our county with what living here means to me and the brilliant writer I live with, Carla. Almost 20 years ago, after many moves among Navy ports and my duty in the Pentagon in Washington DC, Carla and I anchored ourselves here in Gig Harbor. We wanted to stay engaged in the world, but connect to a local community in our native Pacific Northwest. We especially wanted to connect to a local community far outside the political hothouse of the other Washington. With “think global, live local” as our game plan, we picked Gig Harbor and PIerce County. We chose well.
Now, like many of you, we are wondering what’s happening? What’s happening to our country, to our region? And what could happen right here in Pierce County? If Trump is reelected, will there be any place left where Americans can safely anchor their lives?
That’s why I’m running for Pierce County Executive. If ever there were a decisive moment in history when Americans were called to action, this is it. Now’s the time and here’s the place. Tonight I want to talk with you about how we can get America back on track. We start here in Pierce County. We rebuild our democracy one county at a time, starting here. We think globally, but knowing that all politics is local, we act locally.
We have something very special here — we want to make sure that we keep it special. With our blend of diverse cultures and identities, our mix of urban and rural neighborhoods, and our glorious natural resources that stretch from the waters of Puget Sound to the forests of Mt. Rainier, our county mirrors the best of America. With a population soon to be one million, with 23 cities and towns, 15 school districts, 19 police departments, 9 colleges and universities, a couple hundred elected officials, and thousands of business employers, Pierce County is a basic building block of America’s democracy. We are the “We the people” whose enduring goals still are those of the first sentence of the Constitution which instructed us “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, and ensure domestic tranquility.”
In my view, the primary duty of the County Executive is to turn our ship toward a better future — toward a vision of democracy that sometimes seems unreachable. I think it is reachable. We are at a very special moment in history, a turning point. I propose that here in Pierce County we translate our ideals into a practical, concrete goal.
I propose this be our goal, our north star, be: “to ensure that all our residents are healthy, housed, and equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.”
In my view, that should be the primary duty of our County Executive — to lead our corner of America’s democracy toward that goal. And note the verb — to ensure. Tonight, I want to outline how, if elected, I propose to meet that responsibility — how I would work in close coordination with the County Council and other elected officials to reconnect our county government to our people and to our many and diverse local communities.
To do that I’m going to tell you how we can build a “democracy ladder” so that all of us “we the people” can climb together out of a very deep sinkhole and build a better Pierce County.
Let’s start by taking a look at ourselves. Our politics have become so negative that it is easy to forget that we excel in many areas. I’m confident we can build on our strengths, work on the weak areas and right this ship, ending up far stronger than we were before the virus — and Trump! — got here.
To count our assets, let’s start with ourselves. LIke America, we are a wonderful blend of people, cultures, and life experiences. As we see in the marches for justice, we are especially blessed with a new generation of serious-minded young adults and teenagers who are committed to transforming systems in their own unique way.
We have another key asset — our geography, our land and waters. It will continue to be a joy to live here as long as we protect that natural heritage. And let’s face it, our long-term prosperity will come from people who want to live, work, and raise a family here.
We are also well endowed in Pierce County with civic infrastructure. In addition to our school districts, colleges and universities, we have dozens of charitable organizations and hundreds of local community non-profits, church organizations, and service clubs.
With these assets, we can tackle hard problems. And we do have problems to tackle. Let’s inventory.
The first, cold fact is that we’ve not been good stewards of our land and waters. We’ve allowed, even encouraged, a sprawl of disorganized building to spill into our irreplaceable farm and forest lands. We’ve trashed out some areas and let older neighborhoods slide into urban blight. Puget Sound is acidifying and accumulating chemicals and plastic. Some of our rivers are silting. And as we see in the paper today, we’ve stood by while one of our jewels, the Puyallup River, has become so degraded it is now number four on the national list of most endangered rivers. Something I particularly worry about is our fresh water — we’re not managing our underground, fresh water aquifers. Here in Pierce County we are standing on our drinking water, but we haven’t bothered to make sure that water is staying clean and that there will be enough of it to go around for future residents, farms, and fish.
Our physical infrastructure also has some serious holes. As we look around the county se find inadequate roads, old bridges, limited transit, and giant gaps in broadband coverage. Workers and students are isolated at home or stuck in traffic jams. Too many of our rural residents — who are half the county’s total population — go without the basics of nearby public services.
And especially disappointing in a state that claims to guarantee a basic education for all, we’ve neglected our working families. Perhaps lulled by years of being Seattle’s bedroom, we’ve coasted on King County’s economy. Pierce County’s workforce is strikingly under-skilled. Our unemployment rates are the worst in the whole region and so are our average wages. Mental health problems are rising, overall health declines. If there is any one measure of our situation today, it is hunger. As we’re talking, it is dinner time right now for many families. But as The News Tribune just reported, for one in five of our families, there is nothing on the table, the kids will go to bed hungry, while their parents worry if they can pay the rent next month or end up on the street.
And let’s be honest with ourselves. For all of our good intentions, the fact is that systemic, structural racism is the norm here in Pierce County. Measured any way you wish — by disproportionate poverty, by access to bus service, by school graduation rates, by police encounters, by getting sick and dying, our Black, indigenous, and other residents of color are disadvantaged and left behind every day.
We must add to our balance sheet two headwinds — the pandemic and the recession. We can’t pretend they are going away by themselves.
Scientists still have a lot to learn about the virus But what we do know is that here in PIerce County we still haven’t corralled the virus. The trends are encouraging, but as of this afternoon, our local Covid-19 infection rates are still running more than twice the target rate.
With the winter flu season coming, it looks like we need to assume Covid-19 will dominate our economy and grip our schools for another year or more.
The recession also looks to be very deep and very long. So the county must plan on the extra high costs of the essential, safety net services our working families need to survive, healthy and housed.
Let’s face it: for the next several years the demand for vital social services will outrun revenue. Lots of belt-tightening is ahead. We must find creative new ways for our whole community to pitch in.
Bottom line: We have our work cut out, but it is work that I think we can do. Doing nothing is not an option. If we don’t try some new ideas, Pierce County will be a rust belt, mired in poverty for a long time.
If we do act, we can deploy some strong capabilities — starting with our strong reservoir of human talent. We don’t have to wait for a Federal bailout that is not coming. We don’t need
Olympia to pass a law allowing us to take charge of our own future.
We know exactly where we need to go.
So let me repeat my proposal: we will know we’ve recovered our capacity to manage our corner of the American democracy when we can say that: “all our residents are healthy, housed, and equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.”
We have the means, we have the compelling need. With that goal as our north star, we can get underway right now, keeping our thumb firmly on the virus as we go.
THE DEMOCRACY LADDER
Okay, let’s talk strategy. Our goal is to create a Pierce County in which “all our residents are healthy, housed, and equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.”
How do we get there? We have to climb out of a hole. We have tens of thousands out of work in a backwards economy and divisive, angry, hyper-partisan politics making it worse.
We need a ladder, a very special kind of ladder — a ladder that a whole county, going on a million people, can climb to a destination they all share. We need a people-climb up-first ladder. I’m going to show you a sketch of that ladder, but first I want to tell you a sea story about how I learned about leadership and ladders in our democracy.
As you know, it was my special privilege to command four warships, including the battleship USS IOWA with a crew of 1,600, a small town. As we set sail one morning out of Norfolk, I was on the bridge talking with a young reporter along for a few days at sea. I realized from his questions that this young man was looking at me as perhaps the most powerful individual he’d ever seen — giant ship, massive gunS, huge crew — everything seemed to be under my personal control. I spent the next couple of days sending him around the ship so he could learn that the ship was, in fact, run from the bottom up — that individual sailors on watch, many of them still teenagers, were making critical decisions within a network of petty officers, chiefs, and officers who kept things organized. I was in command, but my role was to create a working climate where every sailor could be trusted to act for the good of the whole ship and the whole crew. I was there to help everyone come to a common understanding of our common mission. And above all, I was there to make sure that ship and crew were safe on a big ocean and a dangerous mission. I wanted that young reporter to understand that we were America’s Navy, that each of those sailors was another citizen-taxpayer just like me.
And that’s my view of the role of County Executive. If you elect me, you will find a completely different, a very democratic, view of leadership- a people-first leadership. Donald Trump’s fantasy that “only I can fix this,” is wrong and dangerous. That seems to be the theory of the “boys club” of highly paid politicos now occupying our County’s head office.
We live in a complicated, interconnected world. The essence of leadership today is not dictation from the top. The essence of leadership today, just as it was when the Founders wrote our Constitution, is people-first leadership that recognizes that “we the people” are the source of the government’s authority.
With that, let me introduce the “democracy ladder” — my picture of the strategy for us to climb together out of this deep hole and build ourselves a path to a better Pierce County.
Very briefly, here’s the idea: We’re in a bad spot and looking at a bad future. If we don’t act now we’re going to be stuck down here with high unemployment and deep poverty for a long time. What do we do?
As you can see, the first rung on the ladder is to keep doing the basics. We keep working to corral the virus; we keep working to assure that everyone has the dignity of a safe and adequate house.
Standing on that ground-level rung, we begin the climb with a big step: we restart our economy — we restart it in a very special way. We build a people-first economy. Remember our goal: we want to get to the place where “every resident is healthy and housed (first rung) and equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy (the second rung). We’ll drop the diagram so we can just talk.
Here’s the idea for that big step up: We have a county full of talented, hardworking people. But somehow, despite all the fuss in Olympia about spending on schools, the sad fact is that, measured as a whole, our levels of education and training in Pierce County are way below the norm. We are not competitive. It is not how we stack up against King County. We are less educated than the average workforce in a dozen other countries!
This is not fate. It was neglect and it is fixable. I’ll put the residents of Pierce County up against any workforce in the world. We just have to get back in the game in this new, high tech, high skills, high competition — and high wages — globally competitive economy. An economy that puts people first.
How? We bootstrap ourselves up to much higher levels of employable skills. We already have here in the county the training and education systems we need. With 15 school districts, 5 community colleges, 4 universities, dozens of union and corporate training and apprenticeship programs, a world of on-line resources, and a lot of very skilled retirees. We have the makings of a world-class economy. We just need to connect the two dots — connect those who need and want to upskill themselves with the trainers and educators ready to help.
I’ve already furnished the full plan; you can read it online at www.larryseaquist.com. Here are the basics: number one — we mobilize our trainers and educators to offer the specific classes and training needed for someone who is now un- or underemployed to get the credential or degree she or he needs for a good job in the new economy. We know those skilled, meaningful jobs and careers are there. We also know that most people will have to repeat this training cycle and retool themselves two or three times over a working career. Our 21st Century education system must serve large numbers of working adults, not just youngsters headed for their first job.
Our business leaders are hungry to hire. For several years the Washington Business Roundtable has given us a roadmap to those career fields. I wrote those standards into law when I chaired the House Higher Ed Committee.
Next, we back up those students with support from another of our assets: our existing network of human service organizations and agencies. We have dozens of expert staffs already skilled at giving people a hand up as they better themselves and rejoin the workforce. We’ll need to make sure every family is housed, that every child is fed. No one is going to learn computer programming while living hungry under a cardboard box. And we’re going to have to get serious about child care, internet connections, and bus service — the infrastructure of a well-employed society.
And third, we vote. This can’t be just the County Exec running around with a picture of a ladder. We must decide as a county what we want our future to be. If elected, I will propose to the County Council that we place a Referendum on the ballot asking the voters in the next election to confirm our common, county-wide commitment to becoming a leading edge economy.
I put so much emphasis on our collective commitment to lifting ourselves to a much higher level of training and education because of my four years leading the House HIgher Ed committee. Those were the years when the Legislature and our Supreme Court were wrestling with the McCleary lawsuit and a basic question: “how much is enough? How educated are we supposed to be? That’s when the Court came up with the formal definition of a basic education. It is important, let me recite it again: our goal is that everyone resident in the county is healthy, housed and “.. and equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.” Thus saith the Supreme Court.
To me, there is no more crystal clear goal, no more obvious standard. As our Constitution says, it is our “paramount duty” to deliver the opportunity for that basic education to everyone resident in the state. And for one more quote from our Constitution we must do that duty, “without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.”
To summarize, I propose that we commit to installing education and training as our county’s main engine. We’ve posted a longer paper on the website I’d like to hear your ideas. So starting next Tuesday, a week from tonight and every Tuesday night at 6 for the next few weeks, I invite you and your friends to join me right here. We’ll talk more in an open workshop about these ideas to build a better Pierce County.
That’s one big step up for Pierce County, let’s climb another rung up the “democracy ladder.”
As we climb out of this hole, we need to make sure we are taking good care of the lands and waters as we are, by law, committed to do. In the words of the Growth Management Act, Pierce County was intended to be “a compact urban landscape, well designed and well furnished with amenities encompassed by natural resources lands and rural landscapes.”
We haven’t measured up. We’ve allowed, even encouraged, rapid growth. New building developments sprawl into our forest and rural lands. We are way short of the “well designed and well furnished” standard.
We can fix this with people-first planning Here again, we have all the capabilities already at hand. I’ve published a policy paper outlining this rung of the ladder.
I propose to reawaken the “LUACs” — the local Land Use Advisory Commissions and the various community councils. We de-politicize them, we staff them with diverse voices, we provide them current data, and we put them back into our county’s planning processes. Their first task will be to take inventory, to make a full list of the problems accumulating in each community and the opportunities and ambitions each community has for its future. We will do this inventory on a new, all-systems, all dimensions basis so that we have a comprehensive overview — a synoptic framework for the planning decisions of the whole county.
With our last few days of tragic wildfires, I’m sure everyone of us has been thinking that we need to take a fresh look at how we manage and protect our own neighborhoods.
That’s the basic idea — to build a better Pierce County we must equip ourselves with a people-first, future-oriented planning process. I’d like to hear your ideas — in detail. To do that, I’ll be here next week, same time with an open community workshop and an invitation for everyone to improve these ideas.
We’ve been talking about the rungs. Let’s talk for a minute about the ladder itself — and what it is made of.
We can’t climb this ladder or any ladder to a better Pierce County, we can’t be the America we hope to be until we face up, at long last, to the deep social and economic inequalities built into our now-crashed country.
These are not just nice words for me. I was fortunate to start life in a family of farmers that believed in the value of everyone; I’m blessed to be married to a partner who shares my lifelong commitment to justice and civil rights. And in my own career I’ve seen what happens when bigotry and violence take over.
As some of you may know, I followed my Navy career with a decade of peacebuilding work in countries caught up in violence and civil war. I’ve been, for example, on the street in Colombo, Sri Lanka when a suicide bomber blew herself just down the street. I’ve also worked in American cities where the kids went to bed to the sound of gunfire in the back alley. I’m beyond alarmed that here we are, in 2020, in America, with a President pouring millions of his reelection campaign dollars planning, it appears, to turn peaceful, Constitutionally protected change-seekers into targets for roaming bands of armed militia.
We can’t let that happen here in Pierce County. So I ask you to think of this as our people-first leadership ladder.
As County Executive I will work to make sure that we all climb this ladder together — that equity is the norm for our black, indigenous, and other communities of color. We’ll never be the Pierce County we can be, we’ll never be the America we want to be unless “We the people” truly is “all the people.” In the days ahead I will propose some specific ways we can make that a reality and reduce the risk of violent outbreaks here.
I’ve talked about the opportunities for constructive leadership that I see in the office of the County Executive. Like the U.S. Constitution, our county charter balances the Executive with a strong Council. As a former legislator, I really appreciate the creative contributions that elected representatives bring to our collective well-being. And just like the Congress, it is important which party is in the majority.
I believe our home, Pierce County, is a basic building block of democracy. I believe we can build a better future for ourselves by deciding to become a leading-edge, high skills economy; I believe we can guarantee our long term future by putting local communities back in charge.
So I’m asking for your vote to restore people-first leadership to PIerce County. I’m also asking that you help each of these County Council candidates. We need your help with the campaign and frankly, we need your money. In this season of Covid-campaigns I need your help to get these ideas — and this invitation to participate — out to every voter in every corner of the county.
I look forward to your ideas, phone or email anytime. And I’ll be back here next Tuesday, same time, to continue the conversation.
Thank you and good evening.