by INLANDER STAFF & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & ith the year's legislative session now over, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is traveling the state, signing legislators' work into law; she held a bill-signing ceremony in Spokane last Thursday. Before jetting back to Olympia, the governor met with Inlander staff members for a 30-minute, no-holds-barred interview on topics of our choosing. Her answers ranged from optimistic (regarding the state economy) to inspired (Obama's appeal) to fiery (Dino Rossi).
Economically, how's the state doing and what's being done to prepare for a possible recession?
We're 49th in terms of foreclosures. Our export industry is probably what's the cushion for us right now. We're up $17 billion from last year. We're up 100 percent since 2005 -- $67 billion in exports. Commodities in Eastern Washington are a perfect example -- wheat has gone from three bucks to $12 and more. Boeing's sitting on $255 billion in orders. Microsoft is expanding ... [But] we're not an island. ... We're trying to be smart. The rainy day fund we got through, I think, is smart. If you talk to Arizona, that governor says, 'Thank goodness we have a rainy day fund.' Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to get a rainy day fund in California. So, we've got it and it's got about $450 million in it. So, we're trying to be smart about where we spend our money, smart about reserves, trying to tackle the housing problem.
But I'll tell you what I've proposed to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and to Majority Leader [Harry] Reid with some of my fellow Democrat governors, which is: We need a real stimulus program in America. Not a one-time check, but jobs. So we've proposed that they put forward a good stimulus package as Round Two for ready-to-go infrastructure projects. Those are jobs. And they have to be ready to go in 90 days. So they've got their permits, their [Environmental Impact Statement], whatever they need.
Would that include projects like the North-South freeway?
It would have to have everything ready to go [but] just lacks the money. So, all permits, all EIS, all everything ... No more than 90 days. If that's true with North-South, it would qualify. I don't think it is, to be honest with you.
This year, a lot of our legislators came to you talking about low-income housing. What were they asking for? What was the conversation?
Well, it wasn't just here. It was everywhere. If we can't find people affordable housing, they're either on the streets, or they're having to go long distances -- which is becoming a more pressing problem throughout the state -- to get to their jobs. So then we're gumming up the roads. So, how do we put more money into low-income housing? That's the [state housing] trust fund -- $70 million. How do we increase the debt limit? We did that. We've done a lot of work on manufactured homes, mobile homes, to [incentivize] to make sure people can get into those and not get thrown out.
Washington and Idaho are working together to divvy up the water in the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie aquifer. How are those talks going?
First of all, I think we're working better together than ever in history. And we all understand the aquifer doesn't have an artificial line that says here's the border and so here's your share and here's our share. We're in the process of moving out to public comment in April to get a feel for what the public is going to say about it, but I want to applaud Idaho and their work with us, and our folks are working well with them.
Last month, you endorsed Barack Obama. What do you think of the future of the Democratic Party nationwide -- in the middle of a contentious race -- and here in Washington?
I'm very encouraged by both Democratic candidates. It was not an easy decision for me to make. But, ultimately, they're very close on policy. So what turned me is who is the person who can inspire this nation? Who is the person who can really get the job done? Washington, D.C., has almost, in my opinion, ground to a halt. So it doesn't matter what your policy is if you can't get them to work together. ...
So I think he's the guy who can bring us together, get [it] done. ... You gotta remember my age. The reason I dedicated my life to public service was the calling by John F. Kennedy. I have never regretted, never doubted the call to public service, and he was my inspiration, as well as Bobby Kennedy. What I see in Barack Obama is he's doing the exact same thing to a new generation.
Is there something to the argument that he's not as prepared as Hillary Clinton is to be president?
I mean, nothing prepares you to be a governor, or a president, I've come to believe in my mind. But if you have the smarts that this man has, and he does; if you have the judgment that this man has, and he does; if you've got the ability to inspire hope, and so on -- I'll take that over somebody who's sat in Washington, D.C., for 20 years any day of the week.
Do you worry about the party being dragged down as the nomination process is dragged out?
Oh, yeah. I think [Obama] comes out of all of this ahead with regard to delegate count. So the only way I think he loses is the superdelegates. If he loses by that means, all of those who've been inspired will be turned off completely by the system. So, that's what I worry about, candidly.
What about in Washington? Do you predict a backlash against 2006's big Democratic victory and your narrowly won election? Are you expecting a fight with Dino Rossi?
He's in a fight with someone right now, because he's about as negative as he can get. Which is interesting. I would never have predicted that. I like to talk about issues and policies. Because there's no doubt I've performed. I've taken on challenges and I've gotten results. And he can't speak to those. Things like calling me 'Benedict Gregoire' I don't think is productive or helpful. ... Four years ago, he said we were the worst state to do business. Well, Forbes has ranked us the fifth best in the country.
The Sonics are the second-worst team in basketball, but still ... what's the solution to keeping them in town?
Well, I don't want to lose 'em. But I will tell you, it's a long story, because I've spent countless hours on this issue. [Sonics owner] Clay Bennett has been very honest with me in the last two weeks. His words, not mine: 'Unequivocally. Not. For. Sale.' I don't think he's posturing at all. And he's absolutely reinforced by the commissioner. Absolutely reinforced by the commissioner. So I think what we oughta be looking at is, OK, fine, we want an NBA team. So maybe it's not that set of players. We want an NBA team. And we want that team to be named the Sonics. And I think those are realistic goals that we could accomplish.
Governors have been making a lot of confessions lately. We were just wondering if you have anything you want to get off your chest right now?
[Laughs] I do. I do. I went in to my senior staff the other morning and I said, 'I don't know what you people are talking about in here, but I want you to know I have not, nor do I have any intention of having an affair.' [Laughs] Can you believe the news? I know Eliot [Spitzer, disgraced New York governor]. And I don't even remotely understand what he's doing.
To read the transcript of the entire interview, go to www.inlander.com.