Malcolm Smith

Having famously netted 70,000 fewer votes in liberal-base King County than Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, Democratic governor Christine

Gregoire barely got into office last time, beating Republican Dino Rossi by just 133 votes.

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As she gears up for reelection, one of her obvious campaign priorities is shoring up the Democratic base in Seattle.

However, having advocated for a viaduct rebuild on Seattle's waterfront; gone MIA on 520; moved tentatively on global warming; kowtowed to Tim Eyman on property-tax caps; unplugged a comprehensive family-leave bill; and put the kibosh on the Democratic near- supermajority doing anything too ka-razy, she's got her work cut out for her.

Step one: Sit down with Seattle's hometown paper and convince us that, beyond her February 8 Barack Obama endorsement, she takes Seattle liberals seriously.

We grade her answers.

Josh Feit: You didn't motivate the liberal base in Seattle in 2004. What will you do differently this time? What can Seattle expect out of Gregoire II?

Christine Gregoire: It was difficult to come out of a contested primary because it was so late and because it was [pauses] Ron [Sims, King County executive]. Look at the write-ins. You can see where some of that vote you're referring to went to Kerry and not to me. Well, Ron is about as solid behind me as he can get [this time]. We have got a lot to do for a second term. Get Puget Sound cleaned up. And after all the reform measures on education, now how do we pay for it? On the economic development piece, there's a lot of good stuff going on in Seattle. We've reformed how we do tourism. There's more to do on import/export. We're $50 billion up in exports.

But what's the theme? Dino Rossi talks about "change" and criticizes "big government spending." Last time, you talked about... about...

Jobs, health care, and education. And let's get to the environment. Let's lead in climate change. Look at all the wonderful stuff the mayor's doing. Look at what Ron's doing. We're a great team. Let's keep marching forward on climate change, and cleaning up Puget Sound

What's "the message?" The message is: We've made huge progress in the last three years and we're not done.

GRADE: "A great team"? Nickels, Sims, and Gregoire were all on completely different pages during the viaduct fiasco, and Gregoire advocated for a reactionary rebuild. "We've reformed how we do tourism." "Exports"? "How do we fund education?" I don't know. You tell me. You can reread the exchange yourself, but I don't see a message here. C

Your Barack Obama endorsement...

Heh. Heh. Heh. You can talk about my endorsement of Obama in only one way. In the end I let my heart make the decision. When was the last time in my life I have seen that kind of inspiration? It was when I was 16, looking at JFK, and in college, seeing RFK. When I see Barack Obama, and I see what he does to this generation, I see a guy who's doing the same thing I felt when I saw JFK and Bobby, and I want that done for America again.

GRADE: Sure, endorsing Obama was calculated political pandering. But we like being pandered to. A

Your budget is facing a $600 million shortfall in the next cycle to keep services running at current levels. This is unsustainable. How do you fix this problem?

When I came into office we had a $2.2 billion shortfall and $5 billion projected over the next two years. We turned it around.

How do you turn it around this time?

Our economy is doing fine, thank you very much. It's the national economy that's tanking. Our basic focus is housing, affordable housing, this legislative session. Fifty million dollars [in the Housing Trust Fund] if Frank [Chopp, house speaker] can get more money—great. One and a half million dollars [in additional emergency-housing funding].

If I were a Republican, my head would be exploding. I'd say, "I just asked her about a runaway budget, and she's talking about spending!"

If I can keep people off the street, I'm saving money. Big time. Where would they cut? You never get an answer.

GRADE: There is a sustainability problem, but the GOP mantra on her expanding budget is bullshit. Her budget has expanded at pace with state revenues and is the same as the 2003 budget Rossi touts. Plus—nice job Tasering the Republicans. A-

Will you campaign for light rail if Sound Transit brings it to the ballot this year?

I'm in the conversation about what it is.

What do you think it should be?

I would do north before south. I've said to both the mayor and Joni [Earl, Sound Transit executive director]: Let me see what it is.

GRADE: Wrong answer. The right answer: "I'm excited to see their plan, and I'm excited to promote light-rail expansion this year." After all, she was gung ho about a light-rail plan that included 185 miles of new roads. Why so finicky about light rail only? B-

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Will you put your foot down and say no to the eight-lane option for the 520 Bridge?

No eight lanes. No eight lanes. Now, if somebody wants to decide in 2030 that they want eight lanes, I leave it to them, but we're not building an eight-lane bridge.

What does that mean?

I'm not going to make a decision today for 2030, 2040, 2050. But I'm not building an eight-lane bridge. I am not.

But that leaves the option open. Is there specific design you support?

Nope. We're working on that. We just had a good meeting with the community today. [See "Shored Up," Erica C. Barnett.]

Is there a deadline? That's part of the criticism from the GOP. "We don't know what the governor wants."

Can they not hear me? Do they not listen?

So what should they be hearing?

I'm building a bridge. Period. I've got funding [$3.9 billion]. The bill is going to pass. I'm not going to dictate to the west side of 520 what it will look like. I don't think you should be dictating from Olympia to the west side of 520 "Our way or the highway."

GRADE: She doesn't want to make a decision for 2030? That's some bold leadership. There used to be language in the bill explicitly preventing eight lanes in the future. That's gone. And the funding—they've got $3.9 billion in the bill—may not cover the new preferred option that emerged this week [see "Shored Up," page 13.] However, the governor deserves credit for moving the issue along this session. B

You campaigned on fiscal responsibility, on no new taxes, and closing tax loopholes. Have we closed any tax loopholes? Why are we giving a $75 million tax break to Microsoft to build a server farm in Eastern Washington?

On fiscal responsibility, all you need to do is go to Wall Street and see we have the highest rating for bonds. I inherited a $2.2 billion shortfall, and we have money in the bank. We funded 728 (smaller class size); funded teachers' cost-of-living increases, the pension system. I got rid of the bed tax we had on seniors. The liquor tax. I got rid of that. We brought fiscal responsibility back. People had been talking about a rainy-day fund—well, we got it done.

We've now got a savings account that any family should have.

[Regarding the Microsoft Server Farm tax break:] The competition [to get their business] is fierce. Other states are offering them what we can't do constitutionally. We can't just dole out money. We're not giving them anything at the outset. We're giving them a reduction in sales tax when they have to replace their equipment every three years. We're building economically in a part of the state that, candidly, desperately needs it. Otherwise it's not going to be here.

GRADE: The governor didn't name a single tax loophole that's been closed. And the server farm is supposed to create just around 25 jobs. C-

You mentioned the $423 million revenue shortfall. One of the best ideas I've heard about this session is enacting the Earned Income Tax Credit to working class taxpayers on the state level. Are you still committed to that?

I need to talk with Frank and [Senate Majority Leader] Lisa [Brown] about that. Sen. Pridemore, the sponsor of the bill, I heard him say, "I don't know that we can move forward on it." The problem is, if we adopt it and don't fund it, we'e got a policy and no money.

Many have said that's what you did with family leave last session: passing coverage without funding. Are you committed to fully funding it [$400 million] and expanding it?

They [the legislature] have to come up with a funding source. I said it can't be general-fund money; they came back and they said general fund. I said no, my paramount duty is education. For family leave you've got to find another funding source. I don't know that they're going to find it.

GRADE: With a billion in reserves, Gregoire should have prioritized and fully funded this pro-family legislation, which passed the Senate with funding. This is a Democratic majority no-brainer. C

There was a great deal of chest thumping by the Democrats about tax reform this session. But all you've done is codify Tim Eyman's existing tax cap.

Would they [voters] have liked it if we hadn't capped the taxes? I don't think so.

The critique is that since people are clamoring for change, Eyman's solution isn't actually dealing with the problem. People with lower incomes are still paying a disproportionate share of their income in property taxes. What about progressive solutions like the circuit-breaker idea [which would de facto base property-tax payments on income].

I think the answer is the homestead exemption [i.e., not taxing, say, the first $100,000 of everyone's property]. I support it. Not for rich people. I support it for people whose property values have gone like this [makes an upward swoop with her hand] and their incomes have not. [The circuit breaker] is too complicated for this short session. That's why people gravitated to the homestead exemption. It's much simpler to implement. And it holds [local governments] whole. Only the state pays. But after the [negative revenue] forecast on Friday, we're not going to get there.

GRADE: She calls a special session to codify Eyman's tax cap, but then says it's too short of a session to enact substantive reform. Why not call a special session to deal with property taxes? Property-tax reform had a real opportunity this session. It's the governor's biggest failure. C-

Your global warming bill is before the House today. Advocates are nervous it may be watered down by business interests who want to scale back the Department of Ecology's ability to regulate. What concerns are you hearing from business? Do they have merit?

We're trying to get everybody to stay together. Here's why: It's one thing to get a bill passed, but it's another thing to get it implemented. The way to make it move forward is to get everybody committed to implementation. This isn't about taking away from Ecology. It's saying, "Ecology, you develop a cap and trade, but bring it back to the legislature for approval," versus, "You have the authority to adopt the rules and implement them today." That's the difference. That's what they [business interests] want, and I'm okay with that.

Weyerhaeuser wants credit in any cap-and-trade system for the carbon offset of growing trees.

I'm not going to do that today. That's part of the process. I don't want to get involved in a bill that decides who's bad and who's good. That's premature.

GRADE: While I like that Gregoire's not taking Weyerhaeuser's bait on offsets (they need to prove the benefit), the governor is wrong to use the word "premature" when talking about climate change. There is nothing premature about deciding who's a bad player, nailing down a stern cap-and-trade initiative, and fully empowering the Department of Ecology today. C+recommended