With the campaign season hitting high gear and many races expected to be close, even small communities have become a key part of the formula for statewide success.
That reality was evident on Saturday, when Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire rolled into White Salmon for a fundraising rally at the Mountain View Grange.
Gregoire, who currently serves as the state's Attorney General, said she came to White Salmon for two reasons: because she was convinced she could find support in all areas of the state, and because she is committed to eliminating the state's urban/rural divisions.
"This is a very diverse state, and we have been trying to visit everywhere," Gregoire said. "I want to have a good feel for each region."
In remarks to the crowd at the Grange, Gregoire offered a few comments on the war in Iraq, which has become a huge issue this year in almost every major political contest across the nation.
"My husband Mike is a Vietnam veteran," she said. "And one thing we have to remember is, no matter what we think of the war in Iraq, it is important that we thank, welcome, and appreciate those coming home."
The event was sponsored by White Salmon residents Greg and Cyndy deBruler, who have known Gregoire since 1989, and the Klickitat County Democratic Party.
The candidate's visit attracted approximately 100 supporters.
According to Nancy Skakel at the local Democratic Party headquarters, the Gregoire campaign exceeded its fundraising goal of $5,000 for the event.
"She received good support from the community," Skakel said. "Now when White Salmon is mentioned and she's in Olympia, she'll remember."
In an interview with The Enterprise before the rally, Gregoire discussed her objectives for the state if she wins the Nov. 2 election.
Klickitat County usually has the worst or second-worst unemployment rate in the state. Do you have any specific ideas on ways to improve the job picture here?
I just came from visiting the Goldendale Aluminum plant. There is a real opportunity to reopen the plant in 2005. If they open the plant, that creates as many as 700 jobs, which will create many more jobs to support them. Also, wind generation has job potential. The state should be at the forefront of alternative energy production, with bio-mass, wind power, and hydrogen fuels. That is perfect for this county and beyond. We will have sustainable forestry here as well, but it won't be like it once was. We have to supplement with tourism.
For one example of how we grow the economy, look at Ritzville. It was economically challenged beyond belief, while Walla Walla is booming. Microsoft and Boeing are not coming to Ritzville, so the economic opportunity is with small businesses. It's an agricultural community, and the main economic engine is to use the agricultural base, but grow a different crop -- grow grapes. Out of that came small wineries, a renovated downtown, and a booming hospitality industry. We can take that concept to every region of the state, and make sure the urban areas of the state respect what rural Washington has to offer and vice versa.
Tourism is a big part of our economy. We need to say to our urban areas, go visit within the state. Be part of the economic growth by being a good tourist.
The Klickitat County Commissioners are considering an energy overlay zone that would speed the siting process for energy facilities. Do you support this approach?
I don't know enough about that specific plan to comment. But I am a big proponent of alternate energy. If we want the economy to be what it needs to be, we need to look at reliable, cost-effective energy sources, and wean ourselves away from oil, and natural gas out of Canada. We as a state are well-situated to make that happen. And it can give our agricultural community another way to survive. Affordable energy for residents and businesses could help us get a competitive edge.
You say you want to lower the costs of prescription drugs. How do you propose to do that?
Five states have waivers that drive down the cost of drugs by five percent. They are mostly on the East Coast, but I'm prepared to pool with them and make us number six. That would drive down the cost for the state to purchase drugs at a constant minimum price. Plus, we need to open the borders to Canada. There is no reason we can't go across to Canada to purchase medicine. If this is really a safety issue, there are ways we could solve it. But I don't believe that is the case. We need the leadership to push the administration and Congress on this. If we can cross the border with trinkets, we ought to be able to bring across prescription medicine.
As an Attorney General yourself, what is your view of the federal Patriot Act legislation? Is it helpful in battling terrorism, or is itself a possible threat to our free society?
I think it has gone too far. Anytime there is a crisis, you have to be thoughtful before adopting legislation that can affect people's private rights. It was well intended, but is open to abuse and Congress needs to look at it. If Attorney General Ashcroft tells us they have never gone into a library to check on what books people have read, why do they need that ability? It needs revision to prevent abuse and misuse.
The major problem in fighting terrorism is not do we have a tool to investigate citizens, but do we have the training available at the local level. We have seen it in this state, where it's not the FBI or CIA that came upon a terrorist, but local officers, and they have to be trained. We need that money that the federal government promised here at the state level. We need training, communications, consolidation; we need a seamless operation. No law is going to do that.
What do you see as the key issue facing voters this year?
The number one issue is the health care crisis. If someone loses their job, losing their health care coverage can hurt even more than losing the paycheck. This is a federal issue, but the state has got to do something about it. It's a very inefficient system now. States need to pool together to make prices uniform; that can drive down costs by one-third.
This is a small town in a Republican-leaning county. What made you decide to campaign here?
: We have been trying to visit literally everywhere in the state. I will concede not one vote and not take one vote for granted. My goal is to get a good feel for the people and issues all around the state.