Editor’s Note: This month and this week, NPI is celebrating its tenth anniversary. This is the second post in a seven-part series reflecting on NPI’s first decade. Each installment will be penned by one of NPI’s board members.
NPI has come a long way in ten years. I moved to Washington State in 1997, but didn’t get involved in politics until 2004 when Dennis Kucinich’s first presidential campaign and Washington State’s cancellation of the presidential primary got me active. That involvement led to involvement in the 45th Legislative District Democrats, where I met Andrew Villeneuve, who was already a key player there.
The two of us grew up politically together in many ways. I took on leadership roles in the 45th and became Chair in 2007 – a position I continued in until I was redistricted out of the 45th in 2012. (Today, I participate in the 5th LD).
I worked hard to develop a leadership team to run the organization, and Andrew was an essential part of it, although he was simultaneously building NPI.
I don’t have political experience outside of the Pacific Northwest, but the politics here have always struck me as peculiar.
One of those peculiarities is the existence of Tim Eyman’s initiative factory. Washington is known nationally as a blue state with a progressive tradition; it has been governed by a Democratic chief executive for over thirty years. But what many outside the Evergreen State don’t know is that for years, Washington’s public services have been weakened by a series of ill-conceived right wing initiatives purposely intended to wreck state and local government.
As Robert noted yesterday, it wasn’t until activists like Andrew Villeneuve and NPI alum Steve Zemke stepped forward to challenge Eyman that his winning streak was snapped. Andrew had no angel investors, financial backing, or team in place when he started Permanent Defense in 2002 or NPI in 2003.
But he resolved that he couldn’t stay on the sidelines while Eyman succeeded in hoodwinking so many of his fellow citizens with false promises of a free lunch.
Since 2002, Eyman’s failures have outnumbered his successes, and this is a testament to the work that NPI and other progressive organizations have been doing… in the courts and the court of public opinion.
And while this has been going on, not only have Andrew and I grown and matured, but so has NPI. Once an idea on the Web, NPI has become an established and respected institution. Permanent Defense, which preceded NPI as a reaction against right wing extremism, became a part of something larger ten years ago when Andrew transformed his realization that progressives needed to go on offense into a plan for something more tangible: a forward-thinking think tank with the soul of a tech startup focused on reframing and rethinking.
It’s been said that successful startups must eventually evolve to become independent of their founders and leaders, and I think that’s true.
As Chair of the 45th, I worked hard to build a leadership team that would carry on my vision of inclusive progressivism, and Andrew has been doing the same at NPI. For much of NPI’s first decade, NPI was entirely run and governed by its staff. But Andrew foresaw that NPI would need something more to go to the next level, and committed himself in 2010 and 2011 to recruiting boardmembers for NPI.
Today, NPI has a strong and capable board of directors, which I am proud to be a part of. Our board includes State Representative Gael Tarleton, who currently serves as NPI’s president, Ralph Gorin, currently serving as NPI’s Secretary, Democratic State Party Secretary Rob Dolin, Robert Cruickshank, and former longtime staff members Kathleen Reynolds and Rick Hegdahl. (Kathleen serves as NPI’s Treasurer).
On Thursday, as NPI begins a new decade, it will cross the threshold with a board of directors committed to helping NPI’s staff realize its potential.
It’s an exciting time to be part of NPI and progressivism in the Pacific Northwest.
Martin Chaney has served as a member of NPI’s Board of Directors since June 2012. He serves as the 5th LD Democrats’ County Committeeman.