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Washington Person of 2008: Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

In 2008, Dino Rossi was not so much “the man who” as “the man without who(m)” . . .

He was the measuring point, and may continue to be for a while.

Dial it back a year ago, and imagine Rossi, the photo-finisher for governor in 2004 who didn’t become governor, decided that, nah, a second run wasn’t in the cards. That little counterfactual leads to a surprisingly long list of events and trends that probably would have played out differently in Washington over the last year. Not so much in terms of overall final political results: Washington wound up with a Democratic-dominated general election as it was. But the changes would have been quite real anyway.

Start with this: When it came to the governor’s race, the one big contest on the dock this year in Washington, Republicans were up against the wall. They had scant bench: If their nominee would not be Rossi, the descent to the next most serious contender would have been precipitous. Democrat Chris Gregoire was well positioned for re-election, and against almost any Republican in the state other than Rossi, the race would have been seen as a runaway re-elect from the outset. It would have gotten modest attention, and the psychology would have developed that Washington was set up to be a Democratic sweep state this year. That swiftly would have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In turn, that might have made some difference in a number of spots. It could have depressed Republican activity overall and especially around Rossi’s home turf in eastern King County; the 8th District U.S. House race was close enough that it could have switched. So might several state legislative races, which might have dug the Republican hole deeper still.

Put it this way. Republicans in Washington are in a deep minority, but this year may have marked the end of the fall; taken as a whole, Republicans in the Everegreen did not lose substantial ground again, as they had in very election for a decade. Apart from the loss of a statewide office (lands commissioner), they were able at least to hold their own, which gives them the opportunity to start working their way back. They would have been in worst shape than that, but for Rossi; and that’s not a small thing.

The goalposts of policy discussion – and action – would have been different, too. Rossi, a skilled campaigner and crisply articulate in debate, poured on the heat on taxes and budgets, and through the year (and even after the election) you could make out a sense that he was pushing the mid-point on these matters, and Gregoire was reacting to it. Rossi probably had a real impact on the Gregoire Administration this year, and maybe next too.

Title of office, evn when you fail to get it, isn’t the only way to measure impact.

Honorable Mentions: Some of the others we considered . . .

Chris Gregoire. Well, of course, the governor is always a possibility; the governor’s actions often have big import. And politically, she jumped on the Obama wagon at a critical moment. But she seemed on defense a good deal of the time, and her re-election didn’t seem to suggest any particular new direction. Besides which, by then, she was having to scramble around the flailing economy.

Kerry Killinger. Don’t recognize the name? He was Washington Mutual’s CEO from 1990 until his ouster last September. If you want a face to put on the economic crisis in Washington state specifically, you could do worse that Killinger. From a New York Times article: “Between 2001 and 2007, Killinger received compensation of $88 million, according to the Corporate Library, a research firm. He declined to respond to a list of questions, and his spokesman said he was unavailable for an interview. During Killinger’s tenure, WaMu pressed sales agents to pump out loans while disregarding borrowers’ incomes and assets, according to former employees. The bank set up what insiders described as a system of dubious legality that enabled real estate agents to collect fees of more than $10,000 for bringing in borrowers, sometimes making the agents more beholden to WaMu than they were to their clients.”

Booth Gardner. A strong reader-suggested choice, because Gardner – a former governor – was clearly the key figure pushing Washington’s adoption of Initiative 1000, the physician assisted-suicide measure, making Washington one of only two states (Oregon being the other) to enact such a measure. It was a significant change in policy and voter philosophy. Gardner’s impact in 2008 was highly significant.

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