The first debate between Governor Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi is being taped live from KOMO 4's television studios at Fisher Plaza in Seattle as I type. The League of Women Voters put together the format for the evening and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is cosponsoring. Dan Lewis and Rita Hibbard are moderating.
The first few questions are being presented by reporters, the last few by citizens on the street. All of the questions have been taped in advance.
A coin toss was held before the debate to determine who would opt to go first and last. Gregoire won, and she chose to have the final word instead of the first.
Jumping in with his introduction, Dino began bemoaning our economic problems and defended himself against Gregoire's recent stem cell research television ad.
Governor Gregoire used her opening remarks to remind viewers where she grew up (Auburn, Washington) and lay the blame for much of the economic mess at the feat of George W. Bush, who has been in charge for over seven years.Economy
: Gregoire compared Washington's current budget surplus with the enormous deficit that the other Washington faces. She came out strong listing her accomplishments and attacking Rossi's record.
According to the governor, "We don't need new taxes. When Rossi was in control of taxes he actually raised taxes," including a bed tax on senior citizens.
Rossi, for his part, insisted that he won't raise taxes (of course). Dan Lewis asked the candidates where they would cut spending.
Gregoire plans to let progressive values and priorities guide her when she has to make tough choices about the budget, including spending cuts.
Rossi skirted the issue.
Gregoire hammered Rossi by pointing out she inherited his (and Locke's) $2.2 billion deficit when she became governor and the state now has a surplus (although a projected deficit is looming ahead, as Rossi quickly observed). Transportation
: According to Rossi, we have a transportation problem (no kidding). He said he has a comprehensive plan that is available on his website and gave out the address for his website.
Gregoire agreed that the Alaskan Way viaduct, the 520 bridge, and the Columbia river bridge are safety hazards. Plans and construction on each of these are going forward, she noted. She added that Rossi's plan for an eight lane Evergreen Point Floating Bridge is a nonstarter because the true cost would be prohibitive.
Rossi claimed he'll work with the neighborhoods surrounding SR 520 to get his fanciful eight lane 520 bridge built. Good luck with that, Dino.
Gregoire replied that Rossi's bridge will take money from elementary and high schools. Under Dino, money that the State Legislature decided would be spent on reducing class sizes (in response to the voters' wishes) would instead be spent building bigger and badder roads. "That's just not our values," Gregoire declared.Jobs
: Washington State has created over 200,000 new jobs while Gregoire was in office. She reached out to Eastern Washington by mentioning local jobs her administration has helped create (including aerospace jobs) in Spokane.
Rossi then claimed that our state's unemployment rate is high, but neglects to say that it is lower than the swelling national unemployment rate.Energy
: Gregoire addressed energy by first mentioning the climate crisis. "We are the third greenest state in the country," Gregoire said. She also mentioned that we are also part of the Western Climate Initiative, a multi-state and provincial partnership fighting to address the climate crisis. Rossi and his fellow Republicans are obstacles to tackling this enormous problem, she said.
When it was his turn, Rossi talked about hybrid and electric cars and repeatedly touted how lucky Washington is to have hydroelectric power. Unfortunately, our energy needs are growing and we have maxed out our capacity for hydropower. Gregoire seized on another opportunity to pound Rossi for his absurd fixation on adding lanes to our highways and encouraging people to drive.Education
: Gregoire said she wants more full-day kindergarten and more math and science teachers. Rossi, she remarked, took a billion dollars away from education during his time in the state Senate.
And she explained that in order to carry out his fantasy transportation plan, Rossi would have no choice but to take more money away from our schools.
Rossi addressed dropouts and low math scores. He would like to replace the WASL with a "more fair test." But he didn't provide specifics. Rossi told a story of his life as the son of a Seattle school teacher but didn't elaborate on how he would improve schools. He even failed to rebut Gregoire's charge that he cut promised benefits for teachers when he was in the Senate. Where's the substance, Dino?Healthcare
: Rossi claimed that Gregoire has made healthcare less affordable. I wish that it was actually that easy to identify the reason that costs are increasing so rapidly. The truth is that Gregoire has helped increase access to healthcare. Rossi, on the other hand, would cut people off. He did it before when he was Chairman of the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
Gregoire's goal is for all Washington citizens to have affordable healthcare, starting with our children. In her first term, her administration has made healthcare available to 84,000 children who needed it.
Gregoire reminded us that Rossi opposed a Patient Bill of Rights and is opposed to embryonic stem cell research. In his rebuttal to this charge, Rossi used another fuzzy story to avoid admitting that he doesn't fully support stem cell research.Environmental Protection
: Rossi again promoted hybrid cars in response to a question about the environment, and told a story which is too inconsequental to report here. He claimed that his transportation plan will address air pollution and he mentioned moving culverts that obstruct salmon.
Gregoire proudly repeated that we are third greenest state in the country, leading on tackling the climate crisis. She emphasized that Rossi has no plan for cutting emissions or reducing pollution. The BIAW, she added, is a primary obstacle to improving the environment in Washington and Rossi (when he was in the Senate) voted with that building industry almost 100% of the time.Mass Transit
: A viewer asked the candidates about their plans for more mass transit. Rossi shrugged off the idea and quickly began talking about roads and cars, cars, cars. It's obvious he couldn't care less about transit.
Gregoire said she sympathizes with the pain we feel at the pump. She wants to give consumers and commuters choices, including light rail and expanded bus service. She remarked that experts consider Rossi's transportation plan "devoid of reality." His reality contains massive amounts of concrete.
Rossi then whipped out a term that Republicans like to use in a pinch, "freedom". He would give people freedom to chose their transportation mode and accuses Gregoire of wanting to limit mobility with tolls. I guess tolls are not a part of his reality. How will we pay for his highways? Using teacher salaries? If cars are the only option, that doesn't give us much "freedom", does it?Conclusion
: Rossi claimed that we can have world class public schools and balance the budget without raising taxes.
Oh, and of course, "we can fix our transportation mess." Then, with an expression lacking any conviction or passion, he grandly states, "This election is about changing the culture of this state for a generation."
I think he pulled that slogan off some other Republican candidate's website and is test running it on this audience. It didn't work on me, but there probably isn't anything he could say that I would find persuasive.
With grace and poise, Gregoire recognized the struggles of our state. She pledged to be fiscally responsible, noting that she pushed for the creation of the state's constitutionally mandated Rainy Day fund, she reinstated Tim Eyman's property tax cap(which we urged her not to do), and under her watch we have a surplus.
She noted that Rossi cut children's healthcare, cut funds for our schools, and imposed a bed tax on seniors in nursing homes. Rossi may talk "freedom", but she pointed out he doesn't believe in giving women the freedom to choose when to have a child or scientists the freedom to conduct research on embryonic stem cells.
In this first debate, there was a stark contrast between Gregoire's strong record and Dino Rossi's empty storytelling or tired rhetoric.
Voters should remember that Gregoire has accomplished much for Washington even during the last four years under the corrupt Bush administration.
Tonight's performance should reassure voters watching that she has the chops to continue to lead us in the right direction.
I would chose it over Rossi's bitter, empty rhetoric any day.