Gregoire, Rossi battle over economy at Semiahmoo
By Tara Nelson
How Washington state should tackle its economy, global warming, education and transportation were leading topics between Washington state gubernatorial candidates as they participated in a highly-charged debate at Semiahmoo Resort last week.
The event was sponsored by the Association of Washington Business and was the second of six scheduled for the month of October.
Speaking at the event, Governor Christine Gregoire praised the strength of Washington’s economy despite the national economic crisis and said she has tackled more major disasters in four years than any other governor in history. She added that although the next few years would be difficult, she was ready for the challenge.
“I think we’re blessed to live in the state of Washington. Forbes and Fortune magazine ranked us as one of the top states to do business,” she said. “But we all know families here in Washington are struggling. No place in America has been able to miss in the catastrophic economy that is happening across the country.”
Republican challenger Dino Rossi, a former state senator who lost a 2004 gubernatorial race to Gregoire by only 133 votes, called Gregoire as a “tax and spend liberal” and criticized her for her use of the word “investment” when referring to state spending on higher education, transportation projects and her prescription drug plan for seniors. He called himself a business person who favored an entrepreneurial state and getting rid of Washington’s minimum wage, but who also cared for the “vulnerable” of the state, although he did not mention any specific plans. He also criticized Gregoire’s spending on state-run health care options for small businesses and higher education and accused her of supporting the estate tax, or what he referred to as “the death tax,” which applies to individuals who inherit estates valued at more than $2 million.
“I’m a businessman,“ he said. “And business people expect returns on their investment. Most of you haven’t seen a return on your investment in education anyway.”
Gregoire agreed she supported the estate tax because it funds education by taxing the state’s wealthy elite and because the measure was approved by 62 percent of Washington state voters in 2005. Gregoire, however, adamantly denied she was in favor of a state income tax. She also called Rossi “out of touch with the values of Washington voters” as he opposed stem cell research, a woman’s right to choose and putting special interests ahead of those of the voters.
Gregoire was also asked about her opinion on climate change by a member of the AWB who said her policies seemed to focus on forcing people out of their cars rather than providing incentives to make voluntary changes in their lifestyle.
In response, Gregoire said she supported providing consumers with options that would include alternative transportation because she wanted Washington state to be a national leader in the fight against climate change.
“We’re not throwing people out of their cars, but rather the contrary,” she said. “We’re saying let’s look at alternatives for people who choose to get out of their cars, because the price of gas today is choking the economy of every American. But just building roads as my opponent will do, is not going to help global warming or climate change. Other transit options have to be made available.”
Rossi disagreed: “We have very different plans for transportation, and mine is rooted in freedom,” he said. “If you want to use your car, you should be able to do that too. Driving should not just be for the rich.”
During a portion of the event in which candidates were allowed to ask their opponent one question, Gregoire accused Rossi of “absolutely agreeing” with President George W. Bush in regards to embryonic stem cell research, global warming, denying access to emergency contraception and a “failing economic policy.” She then asked him to name the three important differences between his own and Bush’s policies.
Rossi responded by saying he would have vetoed more bills for spending increases in Washington, D.C., but did not answer the rest of the question. Instead, he accused Gregoire of lying in an attempt to distract audience members away from other issues.
“It’s kind of a ridiculous question. Why is she trying to distract you with President Bush? She’s not talking about the fact that 16,000 children a year are dropping out of our schools, the $3.2 billion projected budget deficit,” he said.
Rossi then asked Gregoire if she had a chance to do it over, would she write the same budget.
Gregoire replied yes because she doesn’t want the “failed economic policies of Washington, D.C.” brought to the state of Washington. She added that those investments were in line with the values of Washington state voters.
“First, we have invested in education, not only k-12 but higher education to make sure you have the skilled workforce you need for tomorrow,” she said. “I think that’s the best investment we can make for that child and for our future. We invested in community safety and today we have a 14-year low in our crime rate. You can do better business when you know your streets are safe. We also invested in health care because we know we have mental health issues out there that deserve attention and yes, we invested in children’s health care because unlike you, who cut 40,000 kids off health care, kids can’t learn if they’re not healthy. And the fact of the matter is they will get that health care eventually through the emergency room and it will cost us all a lot more in the long-run.”
Gregoire added that the Washington State Patrol was recently named best law enforcement agency in the country by the International Association of Police Chiefs for 2007.
In response to a question about balancing the budget, Rossi said he would reinstate spending limits, cut state workers, and complete a line-by-line budget revision with business principals.
Gregoire maintained that Washington is one of the few states in America that doesn’t have a deficit and that despite economic national problems, it continues to grow. She said she would keep it that way through spending limits, cutting state contracts, enacting a state hiring freeze and a travel freeze for state employees. “I balanced the budget then and I will do it again,” she said. “Not on the backs of children and the elderly like he did, but I will do it in a way that understands the value of the citizens of Washington.”
Rossi said, if elected, he would help represent the needs of the business community. “Half of you already have my number in your cell phone anyway,” he said near the end of the debate. “Just give me a call.”