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Originally published Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Signs of hope on the road to doom

Policy-driven by data and results could overcome the usual politics.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Information

Washington State Institute for Public Policy: wsipp.wa.gov

Thrive By Five: thrivebyfivewa.org

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A lot of problems that seem unending do have solutions. You may not hear about them in a political debate, but they exist.

Washington state is brimming with ideas that could make the future better than the present.

No, I'm not on happy drugs. If anything, I'm probably more likely than you to think we're speeding down the highway toward doom. Living immersed in the news can nurture that feeling.

But I see a lot of reminders of people building alternate routes. And they are more than isolated cases of good sense put to work; they are part of a growing reliance on evidence-based and research-based approaches to a whole range of issues from education to crime, from health care to homelessness and hunger.

David Bornstein wrote about that in a blog (seati.ms/VkLT8T) marking the second anniversary of a New York Times feature called Fixes, which adds a dose of what's working to the paper's news mix.

Bornstein is an author and the founder of the social innovation site dowser.org.

He mentioned the Washington State Institute for Public Policy as one of the programs that work.

The institute was created by the Legislature in 1983 to help lawmakers make effective choices based on research and results.

That's a smart idea, and lawmakers usually pay attention, which doesn't seem to happen as often at the national level, something that probably won't change until politicians believe voters can handle the truth.

How many conversations have you had about how lacking in substance political debates tend to be, especially at the top, where decisions affect what our state and every state can do?

Last week, the National Public Radio program "Planet Money" asked a panel of economists from across the political spectrum to say what they would do to improve the economy.

They agreed it would make sense to get rid of the mortgage-interest tax deduction, end corporate taxes (but fairly tax the people who run corporations), and legalize and tax marijuana.

I think they also agreed nobody running for president is going to suggest anything like that.

What I'd like to see is a panel of experts at every debate, commenting on each candidate statement in real time. We might make some progress that way.

Just putting an idea out there makes me feel better than grinding my teeth about what's not working.

I really value people who act. We have a lot of them around here, in and outside of government.

The state was an early innovator in providing court-appointed special advocates to look out for the needs of young children whose families were embroiled in court cases.

Washington is embracing the tremendous potential of early-childhood education and the power of family-visitation programs.

There is a ton of data supporting that approach, and it's one of the areas where the Washington State Institute for Public Policy has been useful.

In the past few years, Washington has created a department of early learning and a successful public-private partnership, Thrive By Five, that is dedicated to improving early life for the state's children for the longterm benefit of all of us.

The nonpartisan institute is a bridge between researchers and policymakers.

The Legislature assigns the institute to study and report on specific issues state government is dealing with. That has led to more effective and often less costly policies, starting with revamping some of the state's approaches to crime reduction beginning in the late 1990s.

Remember when getting votes required politicians to talk about being tough on crime? Now the conversation is often about being smart about crime.

Politicians will continue in that direction if citizens inform themselves and reward doing the smart thing.

It's easier for that to happen locally, but lots of good practices that started here have spread all over.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @jerrylarge

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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