by Robert Herold
When a candidate leads with a list of campaign promises in the form of a "Contract," as has Tom Grant with his "Contract with Spokane," I immediately lock my doors and check my wallet. The last time a local candidate promised us a contract, it was you-know-who: our very own George Nethercutt. Along with signing on to Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America," candidate Nethercutt promised Spokane voters that he would only serve three terms. Then, six years later he had discovered, much to his "aw shucks," surprise, with those eyebrows of his arching, that after three terms he still had much work to do for the people of Spokane.

Why Tom Grant would want to remind us all of Mr. Nethercutt's Wile E. Coyote routine beats the heck out of me, but there it is: his very own Contract with Spokane.

Grant's contract, however, provides us only a laundry list of specifics that ranges from the suspicious to the silly to the impossible. As an example of the former, he promises to provide a "fiber pipeline" for Spokane. While a case can be made, and others have made it, when urged by Grant we must note that right at the top of his list of contributors is listed the name of Bernard Daines (who has given Tom at least $2,000). And who is Mr. Daines? Mr. Fiber Optic, that's who. Even Nethercutt would have had second thoughts about leading with, "And if elected I promise to throw a whole lot of government money in the direction of my largest contributor."

Or consider Grant's promise to "Implement the Internal Auditor" (whatever that means). This idea can be viewed as his sop to former mayor John Talbott, who came into office with this proposal, one that hasn't happened yet for the simple reason that the notion of "independent" (which this auditor is supposed to be) and the reality of politics are mutually exclusive concepts. (A proposal is, however, winding its way through City Hall.)

Or about his promise to "cut the budget of the mayor's office by at least one-third" -- here's a cute little piece of "waste, fraud and abuse" demagoguery. And wouldn't the hiring of that independent internal auditor pretty much spend all the loose change saved? Or am I missing something?

Now we come to his big-bang idea, his proposal for a medical school in Spokane. Without so much as a doff of the hat towards the little problem of costs and benefits, he just up and asserts a need for one of these things, right off the shelf. Those who read his contract closely will learn that he actually promises only to prepare a report on the matter within a year, but this limited promise comes cloaked in hoopla.

A medical school? Now? It may come as a big shock to Grant, but presently the state isn't even paying for the current bulge in undergraduate enrollment, let alone creating new money pits. Maybe Grant should be encouraged to start a little smaller. That would help.

Candidate Tom seems most enthusiastic about the non-strategic, happy things to do -- like create a permanent public market. And who's not for a new medical school? Strategic leaders would find things that are actually possible to accomplish, but alas, those things are rarely as exciting as the things from the wish list.

Notably, Grant's contract fails to mention the elephant in the room: the River Park Square garage issue. But he has made no secret of his intentions, which may shed some light on why it is that Yale Lewis, the Seattle attorney that the old Eugster-led City Council hired to go after the Cowles hammer and tong, would also be one of Grant's major contributors. Grant, we know, proposes to reopen the case in state court. Should he actually adopt this strategy, I'd bet that his benefactor, Lewis, once again, stands a good chance of fattening his wallet courtesy of the Spokane taxpayer.

Even outgoing councilman Steve Eugster, the relentless force that brought about our now almost three years of litigation, believes that Grant's RPS plan is doomed to be another expensive failure. However Grant may now view the case, it's clear that many of his staunchest supporters are the very folks who have lived with and nurtured the conspiracy theories for more than five years now.

So just who is Tom Grant ? Man of the people? Breath of fresh air? Booster in new duds? Lackey for special interests? Son of Oliver Stone?

Viewed against his list of contributors -- with heavy money from Republicans -- his Contract With Spokane paints the picture of a man playing both sides against the ideological middle. Grant's contract borrows heavily from a surprising source, the very same contract that candidate Nethercutt signed onto a decade ago. Even some of the specifics seem to follow the spirit of Newt's list of things to do.

Who is Tom Grant?

Well, Republicans may have found their perfect puppet. Democrats might worry about being sandbagged. And those who seek thoughtful, rational leadership that shows understanding of governance, views politics as the art of the possible and sees the need to bring to bear a sense of strategy? By now, they must be more concerned than ever.

Publication date: 10/23/03

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