Fred Jarrett: "Where's the Stuff that Isn't Doing Anything for Me?"

By Josh Feit May 8, 2009

PubliCola met with state Sen. Fred Jarrett yesterday. Jarrett, a longtime Boeing finance guy and then Boeing management guru (and the former mayor of Mercer Island), is one of the four Democrats vying for the King County Executive's race—a contest that began in earnest this week with a debate among the four Democratic contenders hosted by the King County Democrats in Renton on Tuesday. (Our coverage is here and here.) 

We met after work at the W. Hotel. Jarrett had a sparkling water. We had vodka. Here are a few highlights:

Jarrett said we should "throw out" 40/40/20—the policy that governs Metro bus allocation between two suburban areas and Seattle. (The suburbs get a combined 80 percent of new bus hours and Seattle gets the remaining 20 percent.) Jarrett said  bus service should be reorganized to promote transit-oriented development and used to serve employment centers.

He also said the ill-advised 40/40/20 arrangement was a perfect example of policy that was dictated by flawed logic: Our tendency to measure government "effort" (by which he means dollars spent) rather what government "delivers." Reversing this equation is Jarrett's biggest theme. 

For example, Jarrett's big victory this past session was sponsoring and passing the comprehensive education reform bill (which, btw, we covered religiously.) Jarrett said the bill mandates ways to measure the quality of our education system (for example, the bill mandates new, upgraded definitions of basic education) rather than just throwing money at the problem.  

Asked to show how he would translate these principles to County policy, Jarrett used his metric-y m.o. to address one of the biggest controversies facing the County—should King County extend its contract with regional cities like Seattle to incarcerate criminals or should King County make the cities build their own ($200 million) jail? Jarrett launched into a speech about "overhead." He said the costs of incarceration are less than what we're spending, and the solution to the jail debate is to stop "setting policy to the budget." 

Jarrett sees fat everywhere—and segueing out of his fiscal rap on the jail, Jarrett says, "there isn't one solution. I want to know: where's the stuff that isn't doing anything for me?"


I should say, while this sounds like a red-faced GOP rap, Jarrett delivers his spiel slowly and calmly. Remember, dude was drinking a sparkling water.

When I asked Jarrett to distinguish his government efficiency rap from similar GOP rhetoric, he bitterly dismissed Republicans as frauds when it came to practicing good business management. (State Sen. Jarrett used to be a Republican, switching parties in 2007. I asked him who was the last Republican he voted for, and first he said "Jerry Ford," but then corrected himself, saying he voted for Bush I, "a moderate Dan Evans Republican." )

Jarrett lingers in Republican analysis, though. When I asked him why he voted against two Democratic priority bills this session—the workers privacy act and extending unemployment insurance—he said the bills involved "minor policy issues" and only had "symbolic value" for the Left.

Jarrett's point? He wasn't going to vote for something he didn't think was substantive just to hand the Left a symbolic victory. Jarrett was concerned about the downside of that "victory": Washington's "endemic image of being anti-business."  Copping this session's GOP mantra, he said he didn't want businesses to leave the state. 

While Jarrett's common sense business philosophy distinguishes him from the liberal Seattle candidates in the race—King County Council Members Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips—it doesn't seem to differentiate him from fellow Eastsider, state Rep. Ross Hunter, who's also running. Hunter, a Microsoft guy, also talks about cutting overhead.

Jarrett had a clever answer to this one: Jarrett is Boeing, Hunter is Microsoft. The difference, Jarrett explained, is that as a successful manager at an established industrial manufacturer like Boeing, Jarrett has experience revolutionizing entrenched systems—changing culture to get results. He said that a relatively young company like Microsoft "isn't efficient" because they're still growing the company. Using this as analogy to King County government, Jarrett said Hunter's spendy Microsoft go-go-go mentality wasn't the right fit for the budget-impaired County, which needs a systemic overhaul.  

He had another clever spin re: Constantine and Phillips. "If you like the way King County government is working," Jarrett said, "than you have a hard choice between Dow and Larry."

My former colleague at the Stranger, Erica C. Barnett did a Q&A with Jarrett as well, earlier this week.

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