Christine Gregoire is Washington State's new governor. But she won ugly and by the narrowest of margins: 129 votes, on the third vote count, over Dino Rossi. Republicans remain apoplectic and are still pushing for a revote; the next hearing in their election contest lawsuit will be held this week. And the public remains lukewarm about Gregoire: A recent poll showed 53 percent believe Rossi won the election (only 37 percent said the same of Gregoire); her disapproval rating stands at 57 percent. Yet Gregoire has come hard out of the gate, pressing government accountability reforms and cutting through red tape to preserve health care coverage for 19,000 children. This week she will introduce her jobs plan, which is focused on improving the small business climate and creating a funding pool to promote the life sciences. Still to come, the tough stuff: Closing a projected $1.8 billion budget hole, untangling Olympia's transportation gridlock (hello, Viaduct funding?), and culture war controversies over gay marriage and gay civil rights.

In her spacious Olympia office-- Gregoire confides that Oregon's governor Ted Kulongowski marvelled at the size of the space during his recent visit--our new governor suggests bypassing the formal conference table for the cozier chairs set around a coffee table in the far corner of the room. Cool, collected, and apparently at ease, Gregoire chatted amiably about what went wrong with her campaign and how she intends to move the state forward in the future.

The election was closer than a lot of people expected.

We underestimated just how ugly the attacks would get. It really amazed me that you can have a pretty doggone stellar public service record and then when it comes to a campaign they make you look like the worst thing that ever walked the face of the earth… I don't think we necessarily got as good a message out as we could have about who I am and what I would do.

What would you like voters to know about you?

I'm a family first kind of person… My time with cancer showed it to me very clearly… I'm a person of faith, [but] I don't carry it on my sleeve. I feel passionately about public service, in a way in which John F. Kennedy called us to serve.

There is a lot of public concern about whether the election was fair. Does that constrain you in any way?

Dino Rossi would have the same [problem]. It didn't matter who won. It was so close that whoever won, there was going to be this question. My job now is to do exactly as I said I would, or maybe be even more bold… Some people have said, well, you don't have a mandate. To that I say, did George W. Bush have a mandate, did Bill Clinton have a mandate? [But] did they act like they had a mandate? It's my job now as governor to move forward. You know, at the end of the day if I ask the average family out there are you more worried about the election system, or about whether you're going to have economic stability in your family? Are you more worried about the election system, or whether you're going to have health care coverage for your family?

Politically, you've described yourself as a centrist.

I said that I'm a fiscal conservative and I am a social progressive… I believe that incremental steps are better than no steps. I believe that we ought to be bringing people together to the middle, because that's Washington State. If this election hasn't said that today Washington State is more in the middle than it is on the left or the right, I don't know what other message could have been received. We can't afford all this partisanship right now. We have got to have a partnership…

A $1.8 billion dollar deficit is projected. How will you deal with that?

I guess you should be the first to know. I was expecting that I would put out a budget here in the next couple of weeks. That's not my intent now. And the reason for that is I think the projections [indicate] that there's going to be additional revenue.

Having said that, I do these intense budgets, I mean three hours this Saturday and Sunday. And it hurts, because I'm one of those people who believe there are people out there who need a helping hand… It's very difficult to trade off this terrible decision from that terrible decision, but that's the position I'm in. I've asked my people to come up with a no new revenue budget. I'll have to see what that looks like. If I can't live with myself in the mirror when it's done, that'll be something else. I will not compromise the infrastructure we have in this state.

Will that require new taxes?

I can't tell you that right now. Like I say, I told them no new revenue and let me look at it.

During the campaign, gay marriage was one of those issues that you said was hard for you to talk about as attorney general. Now you're governor.

I want the court case to do whatever it needs to do, I don't want discrimination in this state of mine. I want the civil rights bill to come through the legislature and arrive at my desk. I am very focused on that. I believe Washington ought to proudly stand up and say we do not believe in, we do not accept, and we will not tolerate discrimination.

It seems like there's an almost infinite need for transportation infrastructure improvements. But there's no money.

I've focused more on meeting with the legislature on transportation than probably any single issue. I want to work with our two Republican leaders… I've talked with [the Association of Washington Business], and I've talked with labor. We cannot walk out of this session failing to do something about this issue. We've got to get that bridge built on the Hood Canal. If that bridge falls down, the economy of the peninsula will be hurt beyond anything we can think of. If the viaduct was shut down, I can't imagine the impact statewide. The 520 bridge… I want to say [there are] 150 bridges across the state in need of repair. I [say] fix it first and fix it right, safety and maintenance has got to be a priority. That's the viaduct, that's 520, that's Hood Canal, and the Tacoma Narrows… We're looking at how do we make that happen.

Last question, there have been little rumblings about the idea of Gregoire as president of the United States. Interested?

(laughing) I love that. I've got the best job. I'm having fun with this job.

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