In what came as a surprise to almost no one, Gov. Christine Gregoire announced last week that she will not seek re-election to a third term.
Over the past 30 years, I have had the good fortune to get to know most of our governors, both as public officials and as people. Each brought their own ideas, vision and commitment to improving our state.
Each had a legislative agenda they tried, with varying levels of success, to implement. Each had to deal with an antiquated tax structure and unrealistic public expectation that we could improve our children’s grades, take care of the poor and elderly, demand more law enforcement, build roads and mass transit, have clean air and water and do it without raising taxes.
I came to appreciate the human qualities that each brought to their job and developed a respect for the challenges they faced. And that applies to both Democrats and Republicans.
Christine Gregoire is one of my favorites. I like her as a person and admire her as a public official.
Booth Gardner, when he was governor, introduced me to Gregoire as a fellow Auburnite and described her as “a future star.” I was the mayor of Auburn at the time and naturally took interest in following her career. What I saw over the next several years was an extremely smart and focused person who cared more about results than credit. She could be all business at one moment and demonstrate a wry wit the next.
Some have told me that they thought of her as distant. I always found her to be warm and thoughtful, as did most who came to know her. The back slapping and schmoozing that are so much a part of campaigning was initially difficult for her, but her basic friendly nature came to the surface over time.
She was the first person in her family to obtain a college degree. She has a strong belief that young adults who want to go to college should have that opportunity. She believes that a college degree can make a difference in people’s lives, and that they can in turn contribute something back to society and make a difference in others’ lives.
To have to dismantle many of the education improvements she championed due to the economy — that has to be a bitter pill for her, as it should be for all of us.
She started as a clerk-typist. Even as she achieved the highest office in our state, she never lost respect for the jobs that other people do. She didn’t view state employees as the enemy. She viewed them as people who sincerely care about what they do and how they do it.
Did I agree with every policy or decision she made? Of course not. But my respect for the person made me feel confident that with her intellect, integrity and compassion, she would make the right decision. Too many of today’s politicians tell us what we want to hear. Gregoire told us the truth, even when we didn’t want to hear it — or wanted to believe that there was some other easy answer.
Despite her critics’ comments, she was not a political person and decisions weren’t based on political gain.
She cares deeply about our children, our environment and the future of our state. She created the Department of Early Learning and the Puget Sound Partnership to improve fish and wildlife, habitat and cleanup of the Sound. She started Apple Health for Kids to improve health care for children, and she built roads and pushed for mass transit. She still has 18 months left in her term and, unencumbered by the demands of a campaign, will spend every second of it trying to fulfill her goals. Her tenure should be defined by her accomplishments, not the recession that undermined much of the good she has done.
Ultimately, history will treat Gregoire well, and it should. She’s earned it.