As Dino Rossi’s patrons in the business community prepare to charge headlong into the breach in the battle against I-912, it is time to start asking “Where’s Rossi?” on this all important issue.
Sources tell me that the official no campaign, Keep Washington Rolling, has secured $2 million in commitments, mostly from the business community, and that an intensive paid media campaign should be forthcoming by the end of the month. Apparently, I-912 opponents have managed to screw their courage, boistered by recent polls that show the initiative much more vulnerable than expected. But hidden in the details of the polling data is a tidbit that nicely sums up what I-912 is really all about. Pollsters tried pushing a number of issues to sway opinion, but only one managed to substantially swing voters from one side to the other.
The conclusion is clear: if Dino Rossi publicly opposes I-912… it loses.
Of course, this makes perfect sense. John and Kirby cleverly launched I-912 at the peak of their election contest trial ratings-bump, tapping into the anger and disappointment of the hardcore Republican base. This initiative has always been more about sending a message than about rational public policy; it’s about sticking it to “Queen Christine” and the Democrats… consequences be damned. While almost-governor Rossi has never publicly endorsed the initiative, he hasn’t disabused the public of that notion either, passively allowing himself to be adopted as I-912’s martyred patron saint.
Indeed, Rossi has a record of refusing to take positions on a lot of things, a strategy that served him well during the gubernatorial campaign, allowing conservatives and moderates alike to see in him what they wanted to see. True to form, he has remained silent on the Legislature’s package of transportation improvements, the gas tax hike that would fund it… and the initiative that would repeal them both. His hope, I suppose, is that Gov. Gregoire’s administration will collapse in gridlock and voter backlash, clearing the way for a Rossi victory in 2008.
But this strategy has its risks, and it is time for his friends in the business community to clearly spell them out. Businesses overwhelming oppose I-912 because they understand how vital these transportation improvements are to the economy of the region and the state. They understand that if I-912 passes, the only alternative that could possibly enable urban voters to meet their own needs would be to devolve transportation spending to the regional level, a shortsighted and small-picture policy that would transform WA into a state of haves and have-nots, and undermine the stability on which future economic growth depends. Businesses oppose I-912 because they understand that it is recipe for gridlock, both political and actual.
Now his patrons in the business community need to make Rossi understand what they understand. And they need to make him understand that unless he supports them on this vital issue, they won’t be his patrons any longer. They need to ask him… “Where’s Rossi?”
Quite simply, if Dino Rossi wants to be governor, he needs to start displaying the kind of political leadership that is a prerequisite of higher office. Rossi needs to publicly state his position on I-912.
Rossi’s record suggests that he likely does oppose I-912. He was a strong supporter of the “nickel” package that the 2003 Legislature passed in the wake of the failed Referendum 51, and he made improving Washington’s business climate a central theme of his gubernatorial campaign. Well, the business community is speaking loud and clear — to the tune of $2 million — that the transportation package is good for business… so if Rossi is as responsible a politician as his patrons believed him to be, now is the time for him to put his mouth where their money is.
The polling data is clear: if Rossi remains silent, and I-912 passes, he will deserve both the credit and the blame. He is the state GOP’s de facto leader… and the symbolic leader of the No New Gas Tax campaign. It is thus his obligation to set the record straight, and the business community should hold him responsible should he fail to do so — for his continued silence can only be taken as evidence that he values his own political ambitions over the welfare of the people he wants to govern.
I-912 is not about gas prices or accountability or transportation priorities — it is about Dino Rossi — and the future of the transportation package it would repeal pivots solely on his candor.
And so it is time that my friends in the MSM start pushing the question: “Where’s Rossi?”
Consider this Day One of my vigil.