Gov. Christine Gregoire (D)
Elected: 2004, term expires Jan. 2013, 2nd term.
Born: March 24, 1947, Adrian, MI .
Education: U. of WA, B.A. 1969; Gonzaga U., J.D. 1977.
Family: Married (Mike); 2 children.
Elected office: WA atty. gen., 1992-2004.
Professional Career: Dep. atty. gen., 1982-88; Dir., WA Dept. of Ecology, 1988-92.
Christine Gregoire is a Democrat elected governor in 2004 in the closest race in Washington history. Gregoire (Greg-WHAR) grew up on a small farm in Auburn, Washington, just south of Seattle. Her mother was a short-order cook who moved west to escape an abusive husband. She graduated from the University of Washington and, unable to find a teaching position, took a job as a clerk-typist for the state parole board. She worked as a welfare caseworker, attended law school at Gonzaga University in eastern Washington, then worked for Republican Sen. Slade Gorton in his Spokane office. There, she drew the attention of another Republican, Attorney General Ken Eikenberry, who hired her as a deputy attorney general in Olympia. In 1988, she was Democratic Gov. Booth Gardner’s choice to head the Department of Ecology. Gregoire ran for attorney general in 1992, nationally a good year for women candidates but especially good in Washington state, where Democrat Patty Murray was elected to the Senate and Democrat Maria Cantwell to the House. Gregoire won the post and served three terms, getting national headlines in 1998 as the lead negotiator for the 46-state, $206 billion settlement with the tobacco industry.
|Christine Gregoire (D)||1,598,738||(53%)|
|Dino Rossi (R)||1,404,124||(47%)|
|Christine Gregoire (D)||696,306||(48%)|
|Dino Rossi (R)||668,571||(46%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2004 (49%)
With high name recognition from the tobacco settlement, Gregoire came to be viewed as a governor-in-waiting. When Democrat Gary Locke, elected governor in 1996 and 2000, announced in 2003 that he would not run for a third term, Gregoire became the front-runner to succeed him. She almost didn’t run. She was diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy. She considered dropping out of the race, sought counsel from Democrats Janet Napolitano and Heidi Heitkamp, both former attorneys general and breast cancer survivors who had run for governor. (Napolitano won in Arizona in 2002; Heitkamp lost in North Dakota in 2000.) Gregoire decided to have the surgery, and she returned to the campaign trail a month later.
She had primary opposition from King County Executive Ron Sims, whose political base was in the state’s most populous county and biggest media market. At the time, Washington was only slowly recovering from the recession and had the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate. Jobs, education, taxes and the environment were the major issues in the campaign. But the campaign was also sidetracked by the issue of Gregoire’s sorority at the University of Washington, which excluded African-Americans. She charged that the Sims campaign was behind the story. Sims, who would have been the state’s first African-American governor, denied being the source. Local black leaders harshly criticized Gregoire, and she angrily defended her record on race issues and said that she had fought to eliminate the sorority’s exclusionary policy. Voters didn’t seem to hold it against her. She defeated Sims 66%-30%, carrying every county in the state, including Sims’s base in Seattle’s King County, 59%-38%.
Republicans nominated state Sen. Dino Rossi, a former Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman from the Seattle suburbs who billed himself as a “fiscal conservative with a social conscience.” He has an admirable life story: The grandson of an Italian immigrant coal miner, he grew up in a family that endured financial hardship and the alcoholism of his mother, and he became a successful commercial real-estate investor. He campaigned as an agent of change in a state where Republicans had not won the governorship since John Spellman’s victory in 1980. Business interests lined up with Rossi, who said he wanted to change the culture in Olympia to a “free-enterprise model” and who promised to create a cabinet-level office of regulatory reform. Gregoire, who ran as a fiscal moderate, received strong support from the state’s largest labor unions. Rossi’s opposition to abortion spurred abortion-rights groups to donate heavily to Gregoire’s campaign and led Democrats to characterize him as a right-wing extremist—the same tactic that had worked against the previous two Republican nominees. As a youthful suburban legislator with four children who focused on economic rather than social issues, Rossi was not so easily caricatured. But by October, Gregoire had built a double-digit lead in most public polls, and national Republicans, who early in the campaign had had high hopes for the ticket of Bush, Senate nominee George Nethercutt and Rossi, began to write off the state as a lost cause. In the final weeks, Rossi’s change theme gained traction against Gregoire, a cautious candidate who had spent nearly her entire career in government jobs.
Washington is one of just two states that allow absentee ballots to be postmarked as late as Election Day, so it took nearly three weeks for all the votes to be counted. The lead seesawed for days, and in the ensuing weeks, there were protests, legal challenges, allegations of ballot fraud and the intervention of national parties. On November 12, the state Democratic Party sued the King County Elections Department over its handling of provisional ballots, seeking the names of those whose ballots had been invalidated. Three days later, King County, the state’s Democratic stronghold, discovered 10,000 uncounted ballots, and Gregoire took a 158-vote lead. Republicans sought a restraining order to stop the counting of provisional ballots, but a King County judge denied the request. On November 17, after all counties had reported their results, Rossi was the winner by just 261 votes out of 2.8 million cast.
Washington state law requires a machine recount if the margin of victory is under 2,000 votes and half of one percent. A machine recount began, and on November 24, Rossi was again the winner, this time by 42 votes. Rossi called on Gregoire to concede, but she refused. On November 29, he was certified as governor-elect. Gregoire still had another option. State election law allowed for a hand recount under such circumstances, provided that the party requesting it paid the cost. The state party said it would pay, but only in the counties where Gregoire stood to gain the most votes. Republicans were quick to condemn the idea, and Gregoire said she would concede the race unless the party could raise enough money for a full statewide recount.
With financial assistance from John Kerry’s presidential campaign, MoveOn.org and the Democratic National Committee, the party raised the money for a $730,000 statewide hand recount. The vote counting slogged on through December. King County discovered 561 wrongly disqualified ballots on December 13. Then King County found even more uncounted ballots. Republicans filed suit in neighboring Pierce County, which they said was a fairer venue than King County, to prevent the counting of all the newfound ballots. A Pierce County judge found in their favor and kept the votes out. Democrats appealed to the state Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled that the disputed ballots could be counted. The votes were enough to put Gregoire over the top. On December 30, 58 days after the election, she was declared governor-elect by 129 votes. She won 48.873% to Rossi’s 48.868%.
In January, just days before Gregoire’s inauguration, Rossi and the Republican Party filed a lawsuit in Chelan County Superior Court in central Washington asking that Gregoire’s victory be nullified and a new election held, presenting evidence of allegedly improper votes. But the court upheld Gregoire’s election, and Rossi decided not to appeal.
Working with solid Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Gregoire had an accomplished first year. In one of her first acts as governor, she created an election-reform task force, which eventually called for a statewide voter database, mandatory audits of local election systems by the Secretary of State and an earlier primary date. She signed a controversial labor-backed unemployment-insurance bill for seasonal workers, a mental-health-parity bill, and legislation requiring the state to adopt the same car-emissions standards used by California, which are stricter than the federal government’s. She followed through on a campaign promise to create a $350 million Life Sciences Discovery Fund that would use tobacco-settlement money for biotechnology research. But the big news was passage of a contentious $8.5 billion transportation bill that paid for scores of highway and bridge projects with a 9.5-cent increase in the gas tax over four years. The measure generated considerable hostility, and it didn’t take long for opponents to get enough signatures to place a repeal initiative on the November 2005 ballot. But the initiative—opposed by Gregoire, big business, and labor and environmental groups—lost 55%-45%, thanks in large part to Seattle’s King County, where nearly half the money was to be spent on crumbling transportation infrastructure.
Yet despite these successes, Gregoire’s job-approval ratings remained low at the end of her first year, a vestige of her tainted victory and a reflection of a style that was not inclined toward glad-handing and of a record marked by several tax increases. There was talk that Gregoire, who often came across as intense and stiff, needed a “makeover.” Her press releases late in the year began to refer to her as “Chris.”
In 2006, Gregoire helped pass a compromise medical-malpractice bill and signed off on a landmark agreement for water storage in eastern Washington. She also signed a gay-rights bill and a bill making Washington the first state with an electronics-waste-recycling mandate. In 2007, she proposed a $30 billion budget, up $3 billion from her first two-year budget. There was significant criticism of spending increases on her watch, and she muted opposition by proposing a “rainy-day fund” to put aside 1% of revenues each year as a hedge against future hard times.
In 2008, Gregoire proposed a budget that put $1.2 billion of a projected $1.4 billion surplus in reserve but also increased spending by $237 million. The Legislature rejected her attempt to give Microsoft, Yahoo and other high-tech companies tax exemptions on equipment used at computer data centers. Lawmakers also rejected her attempt to establish random drunk-driving checkpoints throughout the state. Gregoire signed a law giving couples in domestic partnerships benefits such as guardianship and powers of attorney previously accorded only married couples. She also signed a law to reduce the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions to 25% of 1990 levels by the year 2035.
Gregoire’s approval ratings slowly went up. Meanwhile, Rossi wrote a book and traveled the state giving speeches, gearing up for a rematch in 2008.
The second Gregoire-Rossi contest was even more expensive and harder fought than the first match. Gregoire touted her accomplishments in office, blamed the state’s economic downturn on Republican President George W. Bush, and painted Rossi as a social conservative out of touch with voters. Rossi criticized Gregoire’s spending policies and emphasized the state’s projected $3.2 billion deficit in coming years. He also opted to place the designation “prefers GOP” rather than “prefers Republican” next to his name on the final ballot. Democrats protested that Ross was trying to obscure his party affiliation and filed a lawsuit, but Rossi prevailed in court. In Washington’s primary system, all candidates run on a single ballot, and the top two finishers advance. Gregoire beat Rossi, but only by 48%-46%.
In the campaign’s final stretch, a poll conducted by the University of Washington showed that voters worried about the economy favored Gregoire by 16 percentage points. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s popularity in Washington buoyed Gregoire’s campaign, and she won, 53%-47%. Political observers said that a 7% increase in voter turnout aided Gregoire. Central Washington, typically viewed as Republican country, did not vote as strongly for Rossi as it had in 2004, and Gregoire improved her percentages throughout the state. The election ended up being the most expensive in state history. Gregoire and Rossi spent more than $12 million each, and outside groups spent a combined $20 million.
Gregoire started her second term by proposing a budget that reduced state spending by $3.6 billion. It eliminated pay raises for teachers and state employees and canceled plans to expand health care for children. Her budget did increase spending on projects relating to Puget Sound, one of her signature environmental issues, by more than $50 million.