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December 19, 2005

Breeze at her Back – Interview with Chris Gregoire

Chris Gregoire is likely to have another good legislative session this coming year.  Heaven knows, she’s due for some credit after the last year.  The governor and legislature actually accomplished a lot last year but that wasn’t the story then.  This year the dreadful court case is behind her.  Gregoire has most of her governmental team in place – people who are imminently qualified for their jobs.  There is an estimated $1.4 billion surplus in revenue coming into the state.  She has lined up about $200 million in spending she would like to see passed and she has also made it clear that she wants the rest to go toward a reserve for the possibility of difficult times ahead. 

With luck, the story will be on the actual good governance we are lucky enough to have here.  We have a governor and a majority in the legislature who are focused on the needs of the people of Washington.  The contrast between Washington State and the other Washington could hardly be clearer.  We live in a state where the Governor asks the people who have studied the issues what should be done rather than her cronies or the people who fund her campaign.  We live in a state where the emphasis is on funding education and maintaining and creating jobs and on finding innovative means to lower the cost of healthcare.  And there is so much more. 

In the other Washington . . .  Well, you know what nonsense is going on there.  The interview is after the fold.

Interview with Chris Gregoire

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

Q: Let’s start with your priorities for this next legislative session. 

CG: A big part of this session will be dealing with the supplemental budget.  There is currently a $1.4 billion surplus.  That’s the good news.  However, there are a number of essential expenditures that must come out of the budget.  For example, we have an increase in the caseload of social service agencies across the board.   We need $176 million to fund the state pensions properly.  Then we have a few strategic investments that this surplus will allow us to fund.  The rest we want to set aside for emergencies or a downturn in the economy. 

The biggest strategic investment is education.  We have a lot of tenth graders that are not able to pass the WASL.  That tells us we haven’t invested in students as we should.  We don’t want to lower the standards.  In the near-term we are looking into how we can help provide individual assistance to those students, by way of tutors or “English as a Second Language” programs as examples.  What will it take to help these students pass the WASL? 

Longer term we want to improve the schools, lower class sizes and get at the root causes of the inability of some students to do well in school.  On the latter, we are going to start with providing better daycare and pre-school for the youngest children to prepare them to learn better in school. We know that children who are intellectually, socially and emotionally better prepared at an early age are more likely to succeed in school.  I am proposing we fund a public-private partnership, the Early Learning Partnership Fund, to support high quality learning services in Washington, including an on-line ratings system for child care and preschools and a coordinated public outreach and education campaign to let people know the importance of early learning.

We will also be helping those who can’t afford to meet the skyrocketing costs of home heating.   I will be asking the legislators that the $7.6 million from a recent case that was just settled go to fund this need. 

We also need to fund biofuels and biodiesel research and development. 

We will also propose funding key investments for emergency preparedness, including funding for tsunami warnings and increased funding for the UW seismic warning system.

Then we have a set of selected strategic investment, including the cleanup of Puget Sound.   We need to address the conditions that have degraded the Orca’s environment.

In January we will also be looking at healthcare improvements.  As a state we serve 1.3 million people in healthcare.  With rising healthcare costs, that is expensive.  We are looking at the root causes of lack of quality, costs, affordability.  We want to look at how we can address those issues.  We are willing to take risks and be innovative.  I don’t think we solve the problem by cutting benefits.  Or shift the costs to those who can least afford it.

So we are going to go to what is called “evidence based medicine”.  There are huge inefficiencies in any healthcare system and we are going to tackle that and improve the entire system.  That will cost money but it will save much more in the long run. 

Q: Any plans for reforming the state tax structure?  How about the B&O Tax?

CG: I was down in Vancouver recently meeting with business folks asking for more tax credits.  I told them welcome mat was not out for that.  I told them that they needed to come back to me with proposals on restructuring the B&O Tax if they had difficulties with it.  This was the Association of Washington Businesses.  They told me they couldn’t get a consensus.  I told them, “I understand your criticism.  You give me a solution.”  We’ll see how that goes.

Q: How about your plans to assist in job retention and job growth?  I was touched at your efforts to find a new buyer for the Weyerhaeuser mill in Cosmopolis.  How is that going?

CG: We have some credible potential purchasers and we are reaching out to two different companies.  We are also reaching out to major purchasers of their products and asking them not to go away, letting them know we are trying to keep that mill there.

We have also put out bids for a feasibility study but haven’t received anything back which is disappointing.  We want information that says what we want to do is feasible. 

This mill has been in Cosmopolis for three generations.  It is integral to the economy of that area and has been like a family for those families who work there.  It is important for them that we keep those jobs there; they all love their jobs.  So we are working to make something happen.   
Q: There were several bills related to preventing or limiting outsourcing that came up in the last session although I don’t believe any of them made it out of committee.  Any thoughts on that?

CG: I was disturbed when I heard the state itself was outsourcing.  I asked for a review and we found two situations.  One was a sub-contractor.  One was directly a state agency.  We’re now asking when is it ever appropriate for the state to outsource.  With companies, I realize it’s difficult and we have to be careful about the messages we send to employers.  There will be a return message.  I struggle with this.   

We are the most trade-dependent state.  China and India are the places most jobs go to.  What I learned on my two trade missions earlier this year was that we need to have a more educated population.  We are capable as a nation of reinventing what we are good at and staying in the lead in creative, challenging jobs if we have a well-trained and well-educated workforce.  That’s what we need to concentrate on.   

Q: Gun control?  Any plans to plug the gun show loophole that has received some publicity lately?

CG: We haven’t done anything on that.  If the Legislature delivers something, I’ll look at it.  The tragedy at the Tacoma mall reminded us we need better gun controls.

Q: Let’s go on to a non-session related item.  How do you address the issue about folks who do not believe you were elected legitimately? There are still some out there. 

CG: Well, they spent six months challenging the legitimacy of that election.  The only result was a few more votes for me after lots of money spent on both sides.  I believe we won that election from the beginning.  With as much money as was spent to question the legitimacy of the election, I can see how people would be concerned and frustrated.  We need to go beyond it now.  I’m in office.  We have a state to run.  We need to run it.  I think we’re getting phenomenal things done.  I am looking forward to the new year.  This issue will get behind us.  I think that the citizens are concerned about what is important in their lives - health care, security, jobs, and education for their kids.  These are difficult issues and I’m prepared to deal with them.

Thank you.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 19, 2005 at 09:50 AM in Interviews | Permalink

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Comments

If the rest of her first term is any like 2005 then we should have no problem beating Rossi and his RNC Minions in 2008. She has been a governor to be proud of.

Posted by: Jacob Metcalf | Dec 19, 2005 11:25:55 AM

Great job, Lynn! I enjoyed reading the interview.

Posted by: darryl | Dec 19, 2005 11:40:52 AM

Why didn't you ask her why her approval ratings are among the lowest in the nation?

And why didn't you tell her there is no way she can ever "soften" her image by changing her name to "Chris."

Posted by: cc | Dec 20, 2005 2:14:37 PM

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