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WA: Address and counter-address

Chris Gregoire

Chris Gregoire

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

Short of, and up to the point of, the actual debates for the candidates for governor of Washington, we got an early version of that today in some ways superior to what may show up later.

The major event, and the larger headlines, will go to the institutional event, the state of the state address to the legislature by Governor Chris Gregoire. Those always get strong news coverage (more, we started to think over the years, than they really merit – referring here to SOSes generally, not Washington’s in particular).

With some wisdom, Gregoire’s probable Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, posted on his web site what amounts to a counter-SOS speech. (Warning: no telling how long the video will remain posted there.) It seemed to be posted before Gregoire delivered hers, and didn’t constitute direct rebuttal as such. But it did cover much of the same territory – education, law enforcement, transportation and budgeting were highlighted – and watching the two back to back you can get a sense of where the policy battlegrounds are, and how the two of them stake them out. (Click on the video for the full deal; the text link only includes a shorthand description.)

Gregoire’s speech generally was a conventional SOS speech (with a few uneasy moments at the beginning about family matters, including her daughter’s wedding), but a bunch of statements scattered through jump out as useful campaign fodder. Rossi’s was almost the reverse: A campaign talk on its face, but often with the sound and feel of a formal address.

The Gregoire talking points were clear enough. Among the quotables:

We have recorded a very important first – the first constitutionally protected Rainy Day Fund in Washington history. And in 2006, we set aside one of the largest budget reserves in state history.

Speaking of our hard working families, after the Supreme Court overturned the one percent cap on annual property tax increases, I asked you to come back in special session to reinstate the cap.

Media across the state have called my budget frugal. It is. Just like families, we are making wise investments for the future and saving for less prosperous times.

That’s an example of our Plain Talk program where we are making government communicate in a way you and I can understand. What a concept!

The bottom line: we’ve created 218,000 new jobs in the last three years. That, my friends, is the population of Tacoma and Moses Lake combined.

I launched Operation Crackdown. For the first time, the state provided funding so that local law enforcement can partner with the Department of Corrections and track down and arrest sex offenders in violation of their parole. In the first two weeks alone, we arrested 50 sex offenders.

Rossi turned out to be talking about many of the same things, though of course he saaw them much differently. His web site’s shorthand description: “Christine Gregoire only told half of the story tonight. She continues to ignore her massive increases in state spending, the looming deficit, our transportation crisis, failures in education, and the inability to keep children in our neighborhoods and state care safe. The incumbent proved she knows how to talk as though she’s a fiscal conservative, but actions speak louder than words. She also keeps punting on important issues until after the next election. People are tired of waiting. Dino Rossi will bring real leadership to Olympia, change the culture of state government, and make Washington stronger for future generations.”

And he iterated and reiterated the idea that the same group of people have been in power at Olympia for a long time: “The people running state government lost the goal of customer service . . . I want to change the culture of state government.” He closed with a phrase that may or may not catch on, given the kind of year it is: “Our journey toward change.”

Still, there weren’t a lot of new proposals on deck. On education, he seemed to be pushing toward more accountability by way of the WASL tests, a topic much battled back and forth for years now; backed merit pay, a long-running issue; more math and science instruction, also not a new thought; and bringing in more non-certified people into the classrooms, a thought that while not exactly new could use a stronger political push than it’s gotten before.

On law enforcement, he remarked that “the incumbent always seem to be playing catchup,” which has some validity, though only up to a point. he zeroed in on the much-debated subject of early release of violent offenders, a subject she has addressed but which seems sure to generate a lot more talk in the months ahead. Rossi seems to have taken this one to heart.

He also blasted her on transportation, talking about promised efforts to cut congestions that “are already drastically behind schedule and over budget.” Her take on this same subject: “At the end of 2004, just 12 highway construction projects were completed. Three years later, we have completed 128 highway construction projects – from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the widening project on I-405, and from a new State Route 17 Interchange in Moses Lake to new lanes to speed up traffic on State Route 543 at the Canadian Border in Bellingham. Ninety one percent of them were on time and nearly as many on budget.” Rossi does have some clear shots available on transportation, though, notably concerning Gregoire’s ever-changing thoughts about dealing with the Alaskan Way Viaduct. You can expect a battle on the details on this one.

And the budget? Gregoire: “Media across the state have called my budget frugal. It is.” Rossi: State spending is up by a third in the Gregoire years, and taxes by $500 million, and “she has blown through the largest surplus the state has ever known” – that last being a pretty good campaign line. And a Perot-like simplicity to his capper: “Here’s my solution – control spending.”

There it is. Two speeches, than an hour’s time – and a solid nutshell of what these two are likely to be talking about in the next 10 months and change.

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