David Dicks must live in his father’s shadow

UPDATE: Nov. 19
Readers may be interested in this commentary from Rep. Dave Upthegrove published Wednesday in the online Seattle PI. Upthegrove, a Democrat from Des Moines, was one of the principal authors of the legislation that created the Puget Sound Partnership.

In his statement, Upthegrove was complimentary of David Dicks:

During Dicks’ tenure at the helm of this new agency, he distinguished himself as a strong leader who was able to corral diverse interests to unite for a common goal: a healthy Puget Sound by 2020.


David Dicks will leave his post as executive director for the Puget Sound Partnership at the beginning of December to take a new position at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment. Check out my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

To maintain David’s expertise on the partnership, Gov. Chris Gregoire has appointed him to the Puget Sound Leadership Council, the governing body of the organization.

From my perspective, David Dicks has been great to work with the past three years. Whenever I’ve had questions about something, he has taken time to explain things at great length. And his staffers were available at a moment’s notice. Even when the partnership ran into financial-management troubles with the State Auditor’s Office, David stepped up and explained how the problems occurred and what had been done to correct them.

Were all the answers about the audit complete and satisfactory? It’s hard to judge. But, as Sen. Phil Rockefeller told me yesterday, “David went through some tough times, and I think he emerged wiser and smarter. It’s a new day and a new ball game there now.”

I’m not sure David realized in 2007 what pressures he would be under when he took this high-profile job as the son of a U.S. congressman. It has been impossible for anyone to disprove the notion that he only got the job because he was Norm Dicks’ son.

His standing apart from his father was not helped by the fact that Norm was bringing big dollars into the state for Puget Sound restoration — even though Norm was doing that long before his son came on board and would have done that in any case.

David Dicks became the target for those who dislike his father’s politics as well as those who believe the Puget Sound Partnership is a waste of time and money.

The question remains: Given these circumstances, was it ever a good idea to appoint David Dicks to lead this new agency?

I remember plenty of raised eyebrows — including mine — when the appointment was made three years ago.

I called Dan O’Neill of Belfair, an experienced member of the State Transportation Commission who had just been appointed to the Leadership Council — the group that first recommended Dicks for the job. See my story in the Kitsap Sun, Aug. 15, 2007.

Dan said David Dicks stood out from the other applicants as “a smart guy who knows a lot about the subject matter and really cares about Puget Sound.”

Being Norm’s son was not an advantage, O’Neill insisted at the time.

“If anything, being Norm’s son was a reason for some people to hesitate,” he said. “But just because he’s Norm’s son shouldn’t disqualify him either. We tried to keep that out of the decision altogether.”

David’s supporters — and there are many — believe he did a good job and seem to have no regrets over his leadership. The following are statements from the news release (PDF 120 kb) issued yesterday by the Puget Sound Partnership.

Billy Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission:

“He is one of the best directors I have encountered in my decades of dealing with salmon and Puget Sound issues. From day one he has understood that this is our best last chance to save Puget Sound and he has done a great deal to ensure that we will get it done.”

Sam Anderson of the King and Snohomish County Master Builders Association:

“David’s appointment was crucial in ensuring that business stayed at the table. He has done a great job of making sure that all interests, including those of business, are heard as we chart our path forward with Puget Sound.”

Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council:

“I congratulate David on his new post, and thank him for his six years of visioning, creating, and building this important new institution. I look forward to working with him on the Leadership Council, where his deep knowledge, political savvy, and passion will continue to benefit this National Treasure, Puget Sound, and the people who call it home.”

5 thoughts on “David Dicks must live in his father’s shadow

  1. David Dicks’ appointment to the Puget Sound Partnership, and now to the (also new) UW College of the Environment, illustrates a problem much bigger than institutional ineptitude. It illustrates a systemic corruption that has built for decades in Washington State. It includes the state’s Democratic Party, the state’s indian tribes and the state’s “environmental” community. These three have conspired to stack the deck on public policy matters so that their agenda is immune to electoral process. How? The Democratic Party, which has controlled the Washington State legislature, has passed myriad laws granting evermore power to their sovereign allies, the tribes. The tribes, in turn, press for agenda items supported by the Democratic Party. As sovereigns, they are exempt from the regulations they help push on everyone else. They are rewarded with more power and money. The “environmental” community, ditto. They turn out to support this regulation and that tax knowing that it will, likewise, profit their power and their account. They are rewarded for their support with grant money. Together these groups conspire to build a syndicate that is immune to the democratic process. David Dicks will serve on the leadership council of the PSP and at the UW’s College of the Environment. Both of those organizations will be making policy recommendations to the state legislature. They will recommend regulations and tax proposals strictly in support of the state’s Democratic Party agenda. Their “science” will, undoubtedly, support the Democratic Party’s initiatives. By seeding the process with party loyalists, the Democrats ensure their agenda advances irrespective of voter dissatisfaction. The syndicate locks in jurisdictional compliance through regional commitments like the Puget Sound Regional Council. So, even if the citizens of – say – Port Orchard have a grassroots epiphany that the Democrat agenda is not working for them they will be locked in regardless of how they vote at the polls. Was David Dicks put in his position(s) because of his resume or his party-affiliation? Only a complicit apologist – like the author of this blog – will claim the former. Did Chris Endresen earn her Director of Economic Development position with the Puget Sound Regional Council by merit? Or by party affiliation? The people of this state are having their public institutions co-opted by a political party as tools for their gain. In process, the public are having their voice stifled. It is, really, something of a coup. And, of course, it could not happen without a complicit “press”. Chris Dunagan continues to excuse the corruption and serve as propagandist for the Democratic party.

  2. BlueLight,

    When I first read your comment, I asked myself if I could be so politically naïve as to miss this kind of massive conspiracy right under my nose. Because you seemed so sincere about this, I have been thinking about your ideas a lot the past couple days.

    I came to the conclusion that you must be confusing widespread concern for the environment in Washington state — misguided from your point of view — with some kind of organized effort controlling environmental funding and keeping conspiratorial participants in power. Thinking it through, I realized that your theory would never work in today’s world.

    It is no doubt true that Democrats outnumber Republicans among legislators willing to put a lot of money and resources into environmental programs. But you can’t overlook the large number of Republicans who support environmental initiatives. Unlike Republicans in Congress, you don’t see solid blocks of Democrats or Republicans voting together on most environmental bills. Democratic legislators may conspire with each other to advance an environmental agenda, but that’s the nature of political parties. Thankfully, in this state, Republicans still work with Democrats to improve environmental programs.

    Consider the creation of the Puget Sound Partnership. It passed with a vote of 43 to 4 in the Senate and 86 to 12 in the House. Somehow, a number of Republicans decided to join the Democrats’ “conspiracy.”

    As for environmental organizations, by definition they are engaged in efforts to protect, preserve and restore the environment. The fact that so many of their initiatives go nowhere in the Legislature demonstrates that environmental groups are not fused with the Democratic Party. Environmental groups support legislators who vote their way, which tends to favor Democrats over Republicans — but it is a mixed bag. For one example, check out the Scorecard by Washington Conservation Voters, where you will see a number of Republicans with higher ratings than Democrats. This is how politics works; it is hardly a conspiracy.

    As for Indian tribes, they are special units of government with their own unique interests. Since they don’t have to balance a state budget, they often seem to be aligned politically with environmental groups, pushing state and local governments for more environmental protections. Considering their many battles against state government, controlled by Democrats, it makes no sense to think that they aligned in some conspiratorial fashion. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the tribes frequently fail to line up with each other, which should be far easier than throwing in with the Democratic Party.

    As an aside, people are often critical of the tribes because tribal activities don’t always line up with their environmental demands for others . There are a couple of explanations. First, tribal councils sometimes compromise on environmental issues out of economic concerns involving projects on their reservations. That’s how most governments act. For outside projects, where tribes have no final authority to decide, they are free to take an uncompromising stand. Second, tribal developments come under jurisdiction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which often operates with less stringent regulations than the state. I wonder if tribes would gain more credibility if they adopted a policy of following the most stringent environmental rules, whether that be federal or state regulations or simply what they are asking of others. But if you think the tribes are part of a huge conspiracy, you don’t understand tribal governments.

    As for my own role, I write mostly about environmental issues, so I tend to talk to a lot of people working in this arena. Party affiliation is of no concern to me unless party politics becomes an issue, such as when Rep. Norm Dicks loses a key position in Congress. I suppose I’m dealing with more Democrats than Republicans, but I’m not really sure, because most people don’t identify themselves to me that way. If Republicans were in control and making a major move to address environmental regulations, I’d probably be talking to them more.

    In “Watching Our Water Ways,” I try to provide personal insights into the issues of the day. I try to see all sides, reflect on what I hear and try not to pass judgment where alternative viewpoints are valid. I’m open to specific criticism; I will correct mistakes that I make; and I will acknowledge differences of opinion. But I won’t become part of any conspiracy — particularly one dreamed up by someone with a wild imagination.

  3. I don’t think it’s political naiveté that’s the problem…

    But let’s go through your defense…

    “widespread concern for the environment” is not “misguided” from my “point of view”. I, and I suspect the majority of the public, believe in reasonable environmental protections. Advocating for fiscal responsibility does not automatically kick one from the “environmental” tent. Except in the minds of those profiting from the current paradigm (which includes you).

    As for the bipartisan vote to create the Puget Sound Partnership… well, duh! The creation of the PSP came after a critical-mass recognition that the existing recovery system had spawned disconnected self-interested fiefdoms all clutching for their piece of the fiscal pie. The PSP was formed to bring efficiency and effectiveness to the effort. To quote the legislation, “Puget Sound must be restored and protected in a more coherent and effective manner. The current system is highly fragmented.” Legislators were promised they were – finally – bringing “science” and accountability to the task. But, as so often happens, legislative intent is disregarded by agency implementation. The PSP hasn’t done the job it was formed to do. And the taxpayers of this state not only have that mouth to feed, they still have all the clutching fiefdoms reaching in their pockets.

    Let’s look at another environmental agency, Department of Ecology. Your blog is titled Watching our Water Ways. Who else watches our water ways? DOE, for one. That agency has a bill ready for the next legislature that will provide new fees for their water resources program (find proposal here: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/hq/6267report.html). In advocating for this, the agency says “you can’t manage what you don’t know” and promises to compile comprehensive “data” on Washington’s water resources and bring science to bear on management of same. IF the legislature votes to give them new fees. Sounds good, right? Until you consider history. In 1971 the legislature passed the Water Resources Act of 1971. This directed DOE to, “Develop a comprehensive water resource data program that provides the information necessary for effective planning and management on a regional and statewide basis. The data program shall include an information management plan describing the data requirements for effective water resource planning, and a system for collecting and providing access to water resource data on a regional and statewide basis”. Like the PSP, though, DOE has disregarded this legislative intent (which is the foundation for even a pretense at scientific management goals). Instead the Department of Ecology has set about on one political planning venture after another, eager to set regulatory streamflows, restrict water availability and – even – revoke existing water rights. All without that “comprehensive water resource data program that provides the information necessary for effective planning and management”. Christine Gregoire directed that agency. So did her chief of staff, Jay Manning. Good Democrats. And now the agency has the gall to approach the taxpayers and say “you can’t manage what you don’t know” and hold out their hands for more money. With the ready promise that, this time – seriously – we’ll do it right. (Of course, the legislation contains outs for them to spend the money on “a broad range” of activities (business as usual).

    So how do we hold these agencies on task? Legislators do not seem capable. For one thing, they have no institutional memory of agency misbehavior. They hear, “the current system is broken” and this new bill will make it better. So Republicans and Democrats vote to form the Puget Sound Partnership or pass new funding schemes for Department of Ecology. Thinking they are doing good. But then the money is handed off to politicos at these agencies. Chris Gregoire et al at DOE and – despite your protestation – David Dicks was nothing but a nepotistic, political appointment to the PSP. They take the money and use the agency to further their party’s agenda. If you think there is a diversity of political persuasion within either DOE or the PSP you are wrong.

    So, insofar as the legislature is incapable of ensuring their intent becomes manifest, we rely on the press. And they – you – have failed us miserably. Whether through naiveté or complicity, it really doesn’t matter to a public taxed out and left with social institutions that have been prostituted of all credibility. You should have pressured DOE to compile that “comprehensive water resource data program” they have neglected for forty years. You should have pressured the Puget Sound Partnership to fulfill the legislative intent behind their founding. You did not. And the taxpayers of this state are the worse for those agency’s nonfeasance and your neglect.

    I won’t argue the indian-Democrat alliance with you. I think more and more people are recognizing it even without the benefit of a fourth estate.

    And if that is how we have to take back our social institutions, so be it. UW’s new College of the Environment has been illuminated as a vehicle for political agenda. The people should defund it. The Puget Sound Partnership has disregard it’s founding legislation and – likewise – shown itself to be a political organization. The people should defund it. Department of Ecology has neglected it’s primary task for almost four decades. The public should say no to new funding requests. And, finally, the Kitsap Sun – through naiveté, complicity, or shoddiness – has failed to hold these institutions accountable to the public.

  4. UPDATE: Nov. 19
    Readers may be interested in this commentary from Rep. Dave Upthegrove published Wednesday in the online Seattle PI. Upthegrove, a Democrat from Des Moines, was one of the principal authors of the legislation that created the Puget Sound Partnership.

    In his statement, Upthegrove was complimentary of David Dicks:

    During Dicks’ tenure at the helm of this new agency, he distinguished himself as a strong leader who was able to corral diverse interests to unite for a common goal: a healthy Puget Sound by 2020.

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