Chris Gregoire: A good governor in bad times

The News TribuneJanuary 14, 2013 

The best kind of attorney is honest, on top of the case, tough in the courtroom but ready to bargain.

The description fits Washington’s departing governor, Chris Gregoire, a lawyer to her bones.

We didn’t endorse Gregoire when she first ran in 2004, and her margin of victory, a freakishly minuscule five-thousandth of a percent, was a statistical tie – barely a win, let alone a mandate.

Her first term was impressive in some ways, disappointing in others. She abetted, for example, a massive expansion of casino gambling without pressing Washington’s Indian nations into sharing revenues with the state. The tribes won the jackpot; the public simply lost.

Most unfortunately, Gregoire and fellow Democrats in the Legislature presided over rapid increases in discretionary spending – expanding programs that ultimately had to be gutted when the good times ran out.

Over time, though, Gregoire wore well.

Although she was part of the spending problem before the Great Recession hit, she recognized the new fiscal reality much more quickly than many legislative Democrats.

The more liberal wing of the party fixated on maintaining unsustainable welfare programs and union pay increases. As the money vanished, many Democrats fantasized about politically impossible tax increases and the elimination of “loopholes” that either offered minimal savings or turned out to be beneficial tax incentives on closer inspection.

Gregoire, in contrast, took to writing hardheaded budgets that assumed no imaginary revenue and punctured the wishful thinking of some of her political allies.

She stared down unions at times, as when she helped secure passage of education reforms that stepped up performance-based accountability for principals and schoolteachers.

Unlike her more detached predecessor, Gary Locke, Gregoire liked to wade into high-stakes disputes and press adversaries into settlements and peace treaties.

As attorney general, she led a coalition of states in winning a $206 billion settlement from tobacco industry in 1997. In 2005, as governor, she helped shepherd an $8.5 billion transportation package through the House that funded more than 200 long overdue highway projects.

She was the catalyst in settling the Tacoma teachers strike in 2011. In the Legislature, Republican leaders praised her straightforward style and good will even when they disagreed with her.

For the last eight years, Washington has had a serious, focused and honorable leader in the governor’s mansion. The state is better off for it.

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