“We’ll be fair.”

Posted by jlubans on August 24, 2021

That’s (“We’ll be fair”) what I heard when I asked a Developmental Disabilities staffer about Oregon’s financial policy on a certain kind of welfare for people with disabilities.
In North Carolina, 3000 miles east, the policy was just the opposite. When I asked legislators from both parties about removing the policy’s punitive aspects, the answer was “It can’t be done”.
How, then, did one state* practice a very fair policy (assuring that a person could retain some assets) while another state practiced fiscal confiscation that led to impoverishment and dependency.
Without going into details, my question is about how the political or other leadership establish the principle of fairness (a corporate value) while another leadership decides on punitive policies for clients.
Now, Oregon has long claimed there is an “Oregon Way” – a philosophy deriving from its earliest settlers, a philosophy of fairness and of helping others.
Another example is Oregon’s “People’s Coast”. Unlike many coastal states, Oregon decided long ago that the ravishingly beautiful coast could not be developed and restricted only for those with the big bucks or other influence.
As a result, Oregon has hundreds of miles of open access beaches and parks.
Is it politics? Some of my East Coast liberal friends assure me that Oregon is on the Left Coast and hence guided by leftist leaning policies.
It may be that way now, but at the time of the beaches and the health care policies, Oregon was conservative, not liberal.
In any case, Oregon’s policy makers were either more intelligent or had a value system that stressed fairness.
When I challenged the unfair policy in North Carolina, I met with legislators of both parties. Regardless of politics, every one of the pols was of the “I feel your pain” persuasion, and would do nothing to reverse the punitive practice.
I recall one bright-eyed legislative assistant explaining to me that any change was fiscally impossible. She was almost gleeful about having a budgetary justification to do nothing. According to her, it would cost millions which the state did not have (of course!).
Her reasoning was that any policy change had to encompass everyone not just the people with disabilities. In other words, the state was fiscally incapable of making one life better without a fiscal obligation to make all lives better.
The former is doable. The latter is impossible. So, “Sorry, but our hands are tied.”
Have you ever used that kind of lame excuse? I have.
Where does leadership enter? The leaders of these two states obviously influenced the legislation and how that legislation would be put into practice.
One state chose fairness, while the other chose unfairness.
What then is the leader’s role in changing bad practices in any organization? Even if the leader (say a state’s governor) would like to make changes, how do they persuade others. If your followers are unpersuaded, you will have an uphill battle.
My two-week lobbying effort with state legislators in person went nowhere. Most figuratively patted me on my head and sent me on my way.
One legislator, probably a Southern conservative, was angered by my pitch. He roared at me that I should be grateful for what the state was doing, and that was that. I remain mystified to this day about what set off the fireworks.
Was it something I said or was it something in this man’s background?
So, there is a culture one has to deal with.
I came to believe that while people with disabilities come in all colors and creeds, the North Carolina legislation may have been racially influenced because of the state’s Southern (slavery) history and significant black population. Yet, I am aware that many northern states (supposedly enlightened) with tiny black populations have policies that emulate the harsh one in North Carolina.
How would you, as a leader, change the unfair to fair? What would it take for your organization to say sincerely to clients, without hesitation, “We’ll be fair”?

*For my Latvian readers, America’s 50 states have much autonomy over how things are done. There’s state law and there’s federal law. For example, in Oregon you cannot pump your own gas. In 48 other states, you can pump it. Some states have sales taxes, a few states have none.
Just about on every issue, states vary and most like it that way.
Of course, those who know best and thrill at telling everyone what to do, prefer a centralized approach, like in Soviet times.
There are strong subsidiarity arguments to let American states have control. However there is constant tension between the states and the federal government, just like with member states of the European Union and the unelected officials in Brussels. Of course, subsidiarity applies to any organization and the decision-making freedom it permits (or not) for local units.

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© Copyright text by John Lubans 2021

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