When it comes to optimism, "State of …" speeches are to politics what spring training is to baseball.
In spring training, every team is a contender; every rookie is a future All-Star; every season is rife with the promise of sunshine and good times. As Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson supposedly said, "A young ballplayer looks on his first spring training trip as a stage-struck young woman regards the theater."
Well, "State of …" speeches are kind of like that. You know … State of the Union, State of the County, State of the City. Why, there's even a State of the State speech each year, which comes from the governor but sounds as though it should be delivered by the Department of Redundancy Department. And when it comes to "State of …" speeches, local residents have been doubly blessed in recent weeks as Clark County Commissioners Tom Mielke, David Madore, and Steve Stuart delivered the State of the County address, and Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt weighed in a few days later on the State of the City. For the most part, the speeches were wrapped up and delivered with the all the obligatory optimism.
"We are priming a powerful economic engine," Commissioner Steve Stuart said, taking part in his 10th and final address. Stuart will soon be leaving his county position to become Ridgefield's city manager, but that didn't dampen his enthusiasm as he pointed to the Discovery Corridor along Interstate 5 as a cog in that powerful engine.
Mielke said the area is demonstrating signs of economic growth and, lo and behold, a week later the employment estimates showed that the county has regained the number of jobs it lost during the Great Recession. Madore added: "Is Clark County a great place for people to work? For some, yes. Clark County can do better. … We can make Clark County the most business-friendly community on the West Coast." Now, that might sound like a bit of hyperbole, but at least it's not absurdly outlandish like Madore's claim that a toll-free interstate bridge can be built over the Columbia River near Northeast 192nd Street in the next five years. Then again, this is the equivalent of spring training, that one time of year when even the Chicago Cubs are contenders. In other words, anything is possible.
Leavitt echoed that sentiment in his State of the City speech. Well, he spent part of the time venting about the demise of the Columbia River Crossing, but for the most part he embraced the mantra of "State of …" addresses. Speaking at his alma mater, Fort Vancouver High School, Leavitt told students: "Your city is on a trajectory of success and prosperity. There is every reason for you to be optimistic about your future in Vancouver. This is a community where you can realize your dreams and aspirations. … Your opportunities in Vancouver are endless."
Driving that message home is really the idea behind such speeches, whether they are coming from the president or the governor or anybody else. Politicians spend most of the year debating, and complaining, and arguing for their favorite talking points. A little unvarnished optimism is appropriate on occasion, providing a reminder to even the most jaded member of the public that things might not be as bad as they sometimes seem.
Which brings us back to the spring training analogy. As legendary baseball announcer Harry Caray once said, "It's the fans that need spring training. You gotta get 'em interested. Wake 'em up and let 'em know that their season is coming, the good times are gonna roll."
Sounds like an annual "State of …" address.