It's a rematch of the bitter 2004 battle to determine who will serve as governor of Washington over the next four years. Incumbent Gov. Christine Gregoire is again being challenged by Republican Dino Rossi, a former State Senator who lost the 2004 race in one of the closest elections in the nation that year.
After three recounts, Gregoire prevailed by 130 votes out of 2.9 million cast.
To give voters a better idea of where Rossi and Gregoire stand, The Enterprise contacted both candidates to get their views on a variety of issues.
What do you see as the two biggest problems currently facing Washington residents, and what are your ideas to overcome them?
The biggest problems that face our state are how do we protect our state's economy from the national economic downturn but not sacrifice the things that support working families. We've all seen the troubling signs in the economy building and have created a buffer with fiscally responsible actions. That's why I fought for a constitutionally protected Rainy Day Fund and additional savings in the last legislative session. We've planned for many scenarios, and we are better prepared to weather this storm because of sound fiscal leadership.
As we've continued to see the national economy decline, I've taken further action to curb state spending. In August, I put a freeze on state hiring, which is anticipated to save $90 million. I recently instructed my budget office to find another $200 million in savings. For our record of fiscal responsibility, the Pew Center on the States ranked Washington as one of the top three best-managed states in the nation.
When I took office, I inherited a $2.2 billion deficit from my Republican opponent and went on to balance the budget, so I've done it before and I can do it again. And I don't believe we should be talking about tax increases in these economically troubling times. His plans to balance the budget can be seen in his record. As chair of the State Senate's budget committee, he wrote a budget that slashed health care for 40,000 low income kids and ignored voter-approved investments in education. He also put a tax on nursing home patients, which I repealed.
Overspending. Washington is facing the largest deficit in state history at $3.2 billion in the next biennium. People in businesses and in their homes have tightened their belts, but the incumbent governor increased spending by 33 percent; that's $8 billion, or the equivalent of $4,000 a year in new spending per family. As a businessman, I know that people expect a return on their investment. As governor, I will spend your tax dollars wisely and cut waste. With rising unemployment and the high cost of gas and food, I will not raise taxes to solve this deficit. As chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee in 2003, I wrote the budget that balanced the then-largest deficit in state's history without raising taxes, while still protecting the most vulnerable. I can do it again.
Public safety. I believe that we all have the right to feel safe in our communities. However, Washington needs to drastically improve the way it protects its citizens from violent criminals. Since 2005 we've seen the tragic results of our state's poor public safety policies, including: The early release of more than 3,000 violent felons; the killing of three law enforcement officers by early-release felons; serious attacks on other citizens by these early-release offenders; the state not knowing the location of more than 1,300 sex offenders. I know the state can do more to support the men and women who protect our communities, and that's why I've made public safety a cornerstone issue of this campaign. It will take new leadership in the governor's office. When I am governor, we will keep violent felons off the street, give law enforcement the tools they need to succeed and protect our children from sex offenders. I have heard from law enforcement officers that additional tools can help them to better serve our communities. For instance, we can use real-time GPS and DNA technology to accurately track all released sex offenders. Additionally, we will not allow the early release of felons, and will also take steps to create needed prison space.
What do you see as your two or three most important accomplishments of your time in public office?
As chairman of the Senate Ways and Means committee, I wrote the budget that balanced a multi-billion budget deficit without raising taxes. I did so by forming a coalition centered on fiscally conservative ideals and created a philosophical majority, not a partisan majority.
I received awards for being fiscally conservative, but I'm equally proud of the fact that we protected the most vulnerable people in that same budget. We protected people with developmental disabilities, people who are mentally ill, and elderly people. I believe that it is the government's duty to maintain a social conscience no matter how dire the economic circumstances. I have always worked to keep our communities safe, and will continue to do so as governor. When I was a State Senator, I worked hard to protect neighborhoods and get tough on crime. I spearheaded a variety of public safety legislation including: the "Mary Johnsen Act" requiring ignition interlock devices on vehicles of chronic DUI offenders; the "Dane Rempfer Bill" punishing drivers who flee the scene of an accident; and the "Two Strikes and You're Out" law sending criminals who rape and molest children to jail for life after the second conviction.
Strengthening the economy and protecting and helping children and families. Under my leadership, we've strengthened the economy and been fiscally responsible because I saw this economic storm on the horizon. Our state has nearly 250,000 new jobs and has doubled exports to $66 billion. Forbes Magazine ranks Washington as the third-best state for business. Fortune ranks our state as the fifth-best for small businesses. I pushed for the Rainy Day Fund and for a budget surplus, so we have money in the bank.
At the same time, I've led the way to help and protect our children and families. Our crime rate is at a 14-year low. We've expanded health care coverage to 84,000 more kids, and we're on track to cover all kids by 2010. We've put in place a prescription drug program for more than 80,000 families and 50,000 seniors. Since 2005, we've opened up 18,000 enrollment slots in our colleges and universities. More than 91 percent of students recently passed the WASL. Apprenticeships have doubled. And no state is stronger when it comes to early childhood education. These investments will strengthen our state's economy in the decades to come.
Why do you think the race between the two of you is again so close?
We've known from the beginning that this would be a tough race, and I'm focused on telling voters about my record and the record of my Republican opponent. Voters will learn that since 2005, we've been preparing for the downturn in the national economy by strengthening our state's economy and being fiscally responsible. At the same time, we've protected and helped our children and families and cleaned up our environment.
Voters will also learn that my Republican opponent doesn't share our values. As chairman of the State Senate's budget committee, he slashed health care for 40,000 kids and ignored voter-approved initiatives to reduce class sizes and increase teacher pay.
People in Washington state are ready for a change. After 24 years of one party in charge, people know that we need leaders who are willing to take a different direction in Olympia. With a neglected transportation system, serious public safety issues, a WASL test that is not serving our students or our teachers, and a $3.2 billion deficit, we need leadership capable of fixing problems.
What do you see as the best solution to help lead Washington out of the increasingly serious energy issues the state and its citizens are facing, i.e., is increased drilling for oil the best approach, or is focusing on new technology the better course?
Experts tell us that Washington is very low on the priority list for potential offshore drilling because the geology off the Washington coast makes it unfeasible. If Congress allows people in Washington to vote on the issue, I will accept that way forward. Washington's energy policy should focus on becoming more energy efficient and helping working families who are hit hardest by high energy prices. Promoting the use of clean, renewable energy such as hydropower, wind, biomass, and nuclear will help us conserve resources, keep costs low and reduces carbon emissions.
In the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with a river system that allows us to produce clean energy from hydropower and allows us to have some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation. As both our state and our nation move forward with plans to reduce carbon emissions and keep our environment clean, we must acknowledge that hydropower is a non-polluting source of electricity generation.
I believe our future lies in new technology and renewable energy. Washington is already a leader in this field, and green energy can also be the future of our economy. I pushed for the Climate Change/Green Jobs bill, which will reduce our state's greenhouse gas emissions and create 25,000 green collar jobs in fields like renewable energy by 2020. Now is the time for us to come together and solve our energy crisis through innovation.
The fact is, even if we started drilling today we wouldn't see a drop of oil for years to come. More importantly, drilling isn't going to help us end our addiction to oil, so we need to be looking for solutions that will lead to real energy independence. My Republican opponent has been silent on his position for offshore drilling, but he has traveled to Texas to take money from CEOs and special interests in the oil industry.
How do you think the presidential election might impact the governor's race this year?
A presidential election always drives more voters to the polls, and I think this year will have a record turnout. I have support of Democrats and Republicans alike. Barack Obama has said he wants to bring to America the kind of changes we're bringing to Washington. And I have the support of Republicans because of my record of working across party lines and taking on challenges that affect everybody in our state.
People all over America have rejected the failed policies of George Bush, which are exactly what my Republican opponent wants to bring to our state. After eight years of George Bush, people understand what these policies would do to our state.
There is a common theme that both presidential candidates are talking about that is equally important in Washington state: change. Unfortunately the status-quo in Olympia is not helping citizens of Washington realize their full potential. For instance, we continue to have one of the highest small business failure rates in the nation. The agencies and regulations that businesses must deal with are causing them to move out of state, or go out of business entirely. But it doesn't have to be this way.
I'm running for governor to bring change to Olympia. I come from the private sector, and know what it takes to create an atmosphere of success to help entrepreneurs and small businesses. I want to improve the culture of Olympia to bring a "how can I help you?" attitude to state government.
What would you say to voters who ask why you would be the better leader for our state?
There is much at stake in this election; we have the opportunity to restore fiscal responsibility to Olympia and start fixing real problems. But we need new leadership. This campaign is not about me, it's not about Christine Gregoire: it's about changing the culture and direction of state government for a generation.
Our state can't afford to have a George Bush Republican in Olympia, but that's exactly what my opponent would represent. I've been a leader for our state. Times may be tough, but we saw the storm on the horizon and prepared for this national economic downturn. We created jobs, a Rainy Day Fund and a budget surplus. At the same time, we've protected what matters most -- our children, families, and communities.
Under my leadership, we've overcome tough challenges before, and we can do it again. That's why I'm asking for your vote on Nov. 4.