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September 25, 2005

Good vs. Bad Government

The city-fathers of the gorgeous Italian hill city of Siena commissioned a set of two paintings in the early 14th century that illustrate the differing effects of good and bad government on the people. The paintings, by Ambrogio Lozenzetti, were able to present an incredible picture of the value of holding government accountable – this to people who were unable to read. Filling one great wall of a large old city hall is the painting entitled “The Effects of Good Government”. It depicts lush fields, sturdy horses and plentiful storage sheds. The people are working and talking and enjoying themselves. On the far wall is “The Effects of Bad Government”. It depicts poorly-tilled fields, strawny horses, badly-kept houses and little stored food. The people are under-fed and brutish, and have raised arms against each other. 

I remember being so struck by these paintings and the brilliance of the folks who commissioned it. Over 650 years ago, the city elders were thinking about the rule of laws, about collective governmental responsibility to the people and of the citizens responsibility to pay attention to how their government functions. I saw the paintings about 10 years ago. I remember turning to my traveling companion and noting that this idea was not fully understood by any number of folks around the world. At the time I was thinking of the Soviet Union or eastern Europe.

Ha! The rest of the world would be pleased if we took this to heart now.

We have seen a lot lately about how badly the national government is currently run and how so many of the Republican governors, i.e. Fletcher of Kentucky and Taft  of Ohio, are both corrupt and running their state governments into the ground.

I am also grateful to the Democratic leaders of this state. I have enormous respect for Governor Gregoire and for the diligence, energy and thoughtfulness she and most of our Democratic leaders put into running this state. I was on a conference call with several print reporters on a call from the Governor and three agency heads from Beijing two days ago. Several local reporters wrote pretty detailed accounts of the bi-partisan trade mission that the governor led. Kristi Heim of the Seattle Times and David Ammons, AP reporter whose work appears in the PI, both had good articles.

What jumped out at me as I listening to them all, is how hard the governor, her predecessor, Gary Locke, and the other members of the mission were working. They are talking with their counterparts in Japan and China in order to find new ways for companies in Washington State, large and middle-sized, to sell goods and services over there. They are talking to agencies and companies that might use Washington’s agricultural, telecommunications, banking, software, biotech, transportation, and pollution control products just for a start. 

In addition, they are working to lower trade barriers; they are talking about how Washington companies can help with the 2008 Olympics. They are very aware of the importance of relationships with their Asian counterparts. They presented a bi-partisan front with the inclusion of Republican legislators. Lastly, they were aware of selling a brand – Washington State. And they seemed to be doing a very good job of it.

It reminded me again of how lucky we are that they were representing us and how lucky we are to be living in a state that seems to understand the importance of good government.

Posted by Lynn Allen on September 25, 2005 at 05:13 PM in Washington Culture | Permalink

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