arroba Email

They’re Attacking Dale Foreman to Defeat His Ideas

State House Majority Leader Dale Foreman is a logical candidate for governor. He’s smart, personable, and experienced. At 48, he’s still a fresh voice in politics, having been elected first only four years ago. He’s the easily-met, thoroughly decent kind of person you’d like to have as a neighbor. An attorney, orchardist and author, the well-rounded Wenatchee representative has the political advantages of an earnest speaking style and a natural bloc of support in Eastern Washington, which has long wanted a home-based governor. He has many friends, as well, in Puget Sound country, where he grew up. Former King Country Prosecutor Chris Bayley chairs his campaign.
Like Jack Kemp, Foreman is a serious social as well as a fiscal conservative. His several legal books include one describing the trial of Jesus. He also has Kemp’s redeeming grace for seeking an inclusive, welcoming Republican party.

Most of all, the scholarly Foreman, better than anyone running, understands the state budget. And he knows he wants to cut that budget. He specifically and courageously announced his intention to trim 10,000 jobs, and in the campaign he has been laying out a plan for doing so. He believes efficiencies also can be achieved through improved technology, where the state lags behind the private sector. It is not a radical program, but a prudent, business-like one that he realistically acknowledges will take several years to complete.

In fact, Foreman’s “Comprehensive Change and Reform Plan” reads as if he had pulled together the best ideas that such reform governors as Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, John Engler in Michigan and Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey have enacted in their states.

Selective pruning, notes Foreman, the orchardist, is especially overdue in Washington State. He points out that state government employment has gone up more than 50 percent in the past dozen years–from approximately 60,000 to 97,000, rising at a rate twice that of population growth.

Unfortunately, the media has shown little interest in Foreman’s proposal. But that doesn’t mean that word of Foreman’s program hasn’t gotten around. His pledge to reduce the state payroll is exactly the kind of provocation that excites active animosity from those who feel their jobs might be jeopardized. And, sadly, some in the media, while mainly ignoring Foreman’s policy ideas, are quick to air personal attacks on him.

The charges began with allegations of infractions of the Public Disclosure law, including largely technical matters, but also a remarkable claim that Foreman, as Majority Leader raising funds to promote the GOP agenda in the Legislature and only considering a run for governor, should have filed papers then as if he already were a candidate.

This is new ground, a free speech limiting power grab by the staff of the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) that almost surely will lose in the courts if the commissioners themselves pursues it. Once again the PDC will have strayed far from its original mandate. But meanwhile, the issue assails Foreman during the final weeks of the primary campaign–which undoubtedly is just what the complainant intended.

Then there was the hot news tip–breathlessly reported–that Foreman had been “excused” from some lawsuit ten years ago. Nothing illegal or damaging there, mind you, just an “appearance” of an implication of a suggestion, you might say. What mattered was not the empty story, but the reporting of it. Where did the story come from and why didn’t the media tell us what the motivation might be?

More recently, there was yet another story: that Foreman used irrigation “water-spreading” on his farm in a way that had caused a dispute with the Department of Ecology (DOE). It is one of those penny-ante accounts that leaves the knowledgeable observer asking, “So, what?” But it leaves–and is meant to leave–the casual observer musing, “I don’t understand what this is about, but it must be really serious or the media wouldn’t be covering it.”

Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire, people say.

Except in politics, I would say, where’s there’s sometimes only a smoke machine.

In this case, it definitely was a smoke machine. But it wasn’t necessarily operated from within the DOE. Carol Fleskes, director of shorelands and water resources at DOE, states that “We’re not the ones generating this story.” DOE and Foreman–who added five acres of land to his orchard and is using the same amount of water as before to irrigate it–do differ on whether he now needs a new legal claim or the old one remains suficient under the law. “Until that claim is verified by the courts it is hard for us to take any kind of action to clarify the dispute,” says Fleskes.

It boils down to a minor jurisdictional issue. But somebody did want to make a big deal out of the little claim. Why?

Because Dale Foreman’s fiscal program, even with scant media attention, is close to hitting a popular nerve. His talent and his ideas endanger entrenched powers as well as some rivals. Therefore, the strategy: If you don’t want to confront a candidate’s ideas, attack him personally. Or see that someone else does.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.