Race for governor unleashes brass knuckles

By Bob Roegner, Inside Politics

The race for governor finally became official last week with Christine Gregoire’s announcement for re-election.

Her opponent, Dino Rossi, kicked off his campaign last fall. Unofficially, neither candidate has stopped campaigning since the last election four years ago, which Gregoire won by 133 votes.

Her announcement took place in her South King County hometown of Auburn at the Rainbow Cafe where her mother used to work. It was designed to remind voters in the state’s most populist county of her roots and humble beginnings, and to contrast herself with Rossi, who is a wealthy Eastside businessman. Gregoire has raised $4.6 million so far.

Rossi, who has raised about $3.8 million, timed his fundraising letter to hit his supporters’ mailboxes the day after Gregoire’s announcement. That should provide a financial boost to his campaign.

Polls in January showed Gregoire with a 13 percent lead, but that has narrowed recently. Objective political watchers wonder how an incumbent governor who is likable, has won awards for state government management in a state that has absorbed the economic downturn better than most, where unemployment is low and who had a relatively problem-free term, could be in a tight race.

Olympia insiders offer several reasons. First, many voters still haven’t accepted Gregoire’s razor-thin win as legitimate. Second, Rossi has done a good job of remaining a visible candidate by traveling the state. He didn’t go back to his business pursuits or start another career. He kept campaigning, keeping himself on the public’s radar screen.

The Republicans kept the field clear for him, and since there is little likelihood that either the Senate or the House will change to Republican, they have focused all their attention on criticism of Gregoire. They know their only chance of power sharing is to win the governor’s office.

The current Democratic control of Olympia and the governor’s office since 1980 has created a strange twist called the “Obama Effect” — that is, the idea of “change.” This could help Rossi.

Lastly, Gregoire has a record to defend, and Rossi can attack from several different angles. No matter what she does, Rossi can say, “That’s not enough” or “That’s too much.” A case in point is the dispute over state saving and state spending.

Gregoire set a goal of saving $1 billion, and through negotiating and vetoes, came up with $850 million. Not reaching this somewhat arbitrary number gave Rossi room to say it’s not enough. If her goal had been half that amount or double that amount, Rossi would still say the same thing. That’s how politics works. If the positions were reversed, the Democratic candidate would respond the same way.

The argument over how much savings is really needed is a political argument at this point, as there will be two or three more revenue forecasts before the next legislative session.

The current rhetoric is just stage setting. Watch for the fall revenue forecast, which will give voters a clearer view of the state’s financial picture.

Rossi argues state spending is up 33 percent and that is too much, while he also says Gregoire hasn’t done enough for transportation or education.

Gregoire counters that state spending is only up 26 percent, and that the extra money went for programs that voters support, including transportation and education.

As you watch and listen to the two candidates, don’t get caught up too much in this type of rhetoric. But do pay attention to the facts. Where does each candidate want to spend your money? Is it where you want it spent?

Finally, remember there are always problems to be solved and there is never enough money. Which candidate reflects your philosophy of priorities? On which programs should any available money be spent?

In politics, the goal is to win in November and unfortunately, this is not going to be a pleasant exchange of competing viewpoints. It’s going to be brass knuckles.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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