In Our View: The Race is On

Gregoire says there will be no third term; quality candidates are stepping forward

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Now that next year’s race for Washington governor has been thrown wide open with Monday’s announcement by Gov. Chris Gregoire that she will not seek a third term, our state could be poised to enter a national spotlight.

Andrew Garber of the Seattle Times writes that the “2012 gubernatorial contest is viewed as one of the nation’s most competitive. It will certainly be a change of pace for voters who’ve gone through two rancorous, back-to-back elections with Gregoire and Republican candidate Dino Rossi.”

And that — the refreshing fact that voters will have someone besides Gregoire and Rossi as a major gubernatorial candidate for the first time since 2000 — is one thing we know for sure about 2012. Another reality in the sea of preliminary uncertainty is that Clark County will be viewed by Democrats and Republicans as a major battle ground in the campaign. Ours is a swing county, drifting toward red in recent years but still hotly contested. Evidence is seen in the narrow 5-4 advantage Republicans hold in state legislators in the county’s three main legislative districts.

Six years ago, Clark County gave Gregoire 42.2 percent of its votes (Rossi took 49.8 percent). In 2008, she improved to 48.9 percent of the votes here (Rossi received 51 percent locally). The Columbian endorsed Rossi in 2004, Gregoire in 2008. So voters in our community have ample reasons to pay close attention to campaigns that are already shaping up.

Several quality candidates are stepping forward or on the brink of doing so.

Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna of Bellevue announced last week he will run for governor, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island is expected to enter the race any day now. Democratic State Auditor Brian Sonntag of Tacoma is viewed by many as a potential candidate. And with no incumbent in the contest, many more names are expected to emerge.

Gregoire’s legacy will not be finalized until after her 18 months as a lame duck. She was a good governor when times were good but her penchant to spend and build bureaucracies caught up with her when times became bad.

Garber’s story in the Seattle Times reveals an interesting transformation in the governor over four years: “A beaming Gregoire greeted reporters in December (of 2006), saying ‘I love my budget’ and outlined plans to increase state spending by $4 billion, much of it going to education. ‘These are good times, these are exciting times,’ she said.”

But in 2010, “Gregoire met with reporters to announce $4 billion in (proposed) cuts. ‘I hate my budget,’ she said, her voice shaking. ‘I hate it because in some places I don’t even think it’s moral.’ Billions of dollars that she helped put into K-12, higher education and social services during her first term have largely been unraveled,” Garber concluded.

Gregoire has supported Clark County on several occasions, and two examples come quickly to mind. In 2007, she ordered the Department of Ecology to stop its foot-dragging in cleaning up the old Alcoa waterfront site, and the work that followed accelerated the Port of Vancouver’s expansion plans. In 2008, within an hour of hearing that a state board had withdrawn a $12.5 million grant for Vancouver’s waterfront redevelopment, Gregoire said she would restore the funding in the capital budget, and she continues to support that project.

How and if she helps guide the state beyond the recession in the next year and a half will determine Gregoire’s position in history. Already, though, her announcement on Monday served as a figurative starter’s pistol for the race to replace her. It’s great to be a swing county as Washington prepares for a possible role on the national stage.