After last night’s debate at KOMO TV, I got a chance to ask both Dino Rossi and Gov. Chris Gregoire a question during their respective post-show press conferences. (Each candidate gave the press about five minutes.)
During the debate, Rossi dodged a viewer question about mass transit by saying his role as governor was to oversee the state’s highways. Mass transit alternatives like buses and light rail, he said, were local issues.
However, his transportation plan actually takes $650 million away from Sound Transit’s budget (putting the money toward state roads.) Sound Transit’s plan was approved by local voters.
I asked Rossi how that part of his plan—taking money away from a locally-approved transit option— jibed with his statement that local voters should be in control of transit solutions.
Rossi said the money was for HOV-lane connections between 405 and 520, and if local voters didn’t like that part of his plan, he would take it out.
I didn’t get to ask him if voters could also take out the $560 million in gas tax money that’s in his plan. Rossi has run TV ads lampooning the gas tax.
During Gregoire’s Q&A, I asked about the $3.2 billion deficit. Gregoire maintained during the debate that Washington state has a surplus, but as has been widely reported, the state is facing a $3.2 billion deficit.
Indeed, Rossi told the press corps that Gregoire was living in an “alternate universe.” He said it’s like she has $800 in her checking account now, but she’s ignoring the $4,000 worth in bills she has due in January.
Gregoire said the $3.2 billion deficit was a projection for 2011, but currently, based on the budgets she has passed, we have “money in the bank.” That is true: $500 million; plus cuts she’s proposed that will put the 2009 budget in the black to the tune of $800 million, her campaign says.
Gregoire differentiated this from the $2.2 billion deficit she inherited from the Rossi-Locke budget which, she said, was a literal deficit that “I turned into a surplus.”
Gregoire took the opportunity to blame the deficit projections on “the collapse that happened on Wall Street” and the “failed policies of George Bush” which Rossi supports.
I’m still mulling over the debate itself. Both candidates had their moments.
Gregoire used just about every question to attack Rossi for being “out of step with Washington values” by pointing to the 2003 budget which Rossi wrote as a state senator—cutting 40,000 kids off health care and raising fees on seniors in nursing homes. She got off her best line of the night by sticking to this theme of Rossi’s indifference to vulnerable Wahsingtonians when she noted that Rossi’s 2003 budget stepped on a voter-approved initiative for smaller class sizes. Rossi balanced the budget, she said, “by taking it out on the hides of our kids…That’s just not our values.”
Gregoire actually landed her best blow, though, when she directly addressed the day’s earlier dust up over her stem cell research ad, which The Seattle Times reported was misleading. She explained that Rossi was against embryonic stem cell research, which is the most useful field of stem cell research when it comes to finding cures for diseases such as diabetes and cancer and alzheimers. Rossi had opened the debate by seizing on the stem cell controversy, saying he supported stem cell research. But when Rossi tried to repeat the claim in his closing statement—obviously he senses that his socially conservative positions are out of synch with the independent voters both candidates are fighting for in this nail-biter—it rang hollow. His statement that “we have to cure some of these terrible diseases” sounded pretty lackluster in light of how Gregoire had reframed the issue.
Without a doubt, Rossi’s best moment came when he recited (almost comically) a seemingly endless list of police guild endorsements, including Seattle’s.
Although, Rossi’s best moments typically came through emotional appeals rather than when he got into the specifics. When he lowered his voice and talked about “cherishing” the teaching profession, explaining that his dad was a Seattle school teacher, he may have negated all of Gregoire’s wonky attacks about Rossi’s assaults on education funding.
AP reporter Rachel La Corte filed a basic recap of the debate which correctly captured Gregoire in her new-found attack mode:
Gregoire said it was important to point out the differences between herself and Rossi.
“We disagree on priorities, we disagree on values, from stem cell research to global warming,” she said. “Let’s move forward as a state. Let’s not compromise our values or our priorities.”
The debate covered several other issues, including transportation, the environment, crime and education.
Gregoire has made the health of Puget Sound a cornerstone of her campaign and as governor has signed several environmental bills into law, including the creation of the Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency responsible for determining the current health of the sound and setting priorities for meeting the goal of a healthy sound by 2020.
“We need a plan that is bold and is leadership-driven,” she said. Rossi “has no plan to do anything about Puget Sound and no plan on global climate change.”
Rossi said that his plan to improve the state’s transportation system will lower emissions. He didn’t offer any other specifics on Puget Sound or other issues but said he would be a “very good environmental steward.”
It’s worth noting: Rossi said he would be a “good environmental steward” because his grandmother had taught his family to “leave the campsite better than how you found it.” It was a sweet anecdote he repeated several times. Gregoire got fed up with the touching story and belittled it by tying Rossi to his financial patron the BIAW (perhaps $1 million this election to oust Gregoire), the business lobby that Rossi voted with 99 percent of the time as a state senator.
I do wonder what Rossi’s environmentally conscious grandmother would think of the BIAW’s agenda. The BIAW spent last legislative session fighting against environmental regulations such as the carbon cap plan and a bill to make carbon emissions a factor in land use decisions.