Sports can teach lessons about politics

Last year was the single worst season in Seattle sports history. The University of Washington Huskies, a dynasty under Don James in the early 90’s, didn’t win a game all season. The Seattle Mariners became the first baseball team to lose 100 games with a $100 million dollar payroll, finishing last in their division with the second worst record in the major leagues.

The Seattle Seahawks went 4-12 after winning four consecutive division titles under coach Mike Holmgren.

Each team performed poorly for different reasons, but each franchise recognized that things wouldn’t get better under existing leadership. New management was needed. For the Mariners it meant a new general manager, field manager, and coaching staff. There were more experienced people who wanted the managing job than Don Wakamatsu, but the owners, players and the fans were ready to try someone new. This year’s Mariners are above .500 and are one of the most improved teams in baseball.

The UW brought in 35-year old Steve Sarkisian to rebuild the Husky football program. Sarkisian’s team played a surprisingly strong season opener against LSU before beginning a new era of Husky football with a resounding victory against Idaho, breaking the longest losing streak in NCAA football. Longtime fans haven’t seen such a strong upswing in Husky enthusiasm since Don James began restoring glory to the purple and gold in the mid-70’s.

When Jim Mora, who as a kid used to sell popcorn at football games in the Kingdome, stepped up to assume control of the Seattle Seahawks, he brought along a quality you can’t quantify on paper – energy. Energy you can feel. His high-octane attitude was everywhere on the field in the Seahawk’s 28-0 shutout of St. Louis in the season opener.

Each team is showing dramatic improvement by replacing old leadership that wasn’t working with new people who were willing to do things differently.

Maybe it’s time to do the same to government.

King County government has grown tired and heavy. It spends more and more money doing what it was already doing. It is poorly managed and its agenda is driven by a few large interest groups. What King County needs is a new skipper with imagination. Voters have a clear choice in the contest for county executive: an experienced political insider from the county council, Dow Constantine, or outsider Susan Hutchison, a one-time colleague of mine at KIRO-TV, who went on to run a respected foundation. Hutchison has less experience than any member of the County Council, but it was the seasoned pros who ran the county into the ditch, not the amateurs.

Ditto for Olympia. We’ve got the same coaching staff running mostly the same plays from a 30-year old playbook and somehow expecting better results. It’s not happening. The state capitol needs new people with new ideas aimed at getting better results without spending more money. That means flexibility, which means not being too closely tied to the status quo.

Seattle already has a head start. After eight years, impatient voters gave their mayor a pink slip in the primary and are voting for a fresh start in November. Now would be a good time to do the same at the County Courthouse.