by THE INLANDER & r & & r & Washington Governor & r & & r & CHRIS GREGOIRE & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & e seems like a really nice guy -- somebody it would be fun to have a beer with. On the issues, he's right there with the rest of us, too -- against taxes, for freedom. Sound familiar? It's exactly the way one George W. Bush stole America's heart eight years ago -- all vague, comforting emotions, uncluttered by confusing details. But that can't describe Dino Rossi, can it? After all, he's not even a Republican like Bush -- he's a member of the GOP Party.

That's been the punchline of this rematch between Rossi and incumbent Chris Gregoire -- Rossi opted to be listed as a member of the "GOP Party" instead of the "Republican Party" on statewide ballots. But when you learn that one West Side poll found that 25 percent of the respondents didn't know the Grand Old Party Party is the same as the Republican Party, it's not so funny. Semantics are part of why this race is close -- Rossi is managing to defy gravity and keep a safe distance from Bush and the fundamentally broken Republican brand.

But the other part of the reason is the mud. With a record $30 million being spent in this race, there is plenty to go around. The result so far has been to make it nearly impossible for either candidate to get out much of a positive message. That works just fine for Rossi, who wants to stick to the platitudes. But for Gregoire, it's kept her from explaining her strong record. The Building Industry Association of Washington, Rossi's biggest ally, is even under scrutiny for possible violations of state election laws. (And some of the legal actions are coming from a fellow Republican, the state's Attorney General Rob McKenna -- a potential candidate for governor himself in 2012.)

This has already been the nastiest statewide race we can remember. Didn't Rossi get the memo? This was supposed to be the post-partisan election, but neither Rossi nor John McCain could help themselves. That over-reliance on negative campaigning would cripple their ability to govern if elected. Both would face Democratic legislative branches smarting over the scorched-earth tactics that put them in office. Rossi loves to say he's ready to "reach across the aisle," but will anyone be there to take his hand after the way his candidacy has been waged? Certainly he would have a high hurdle to clear on that trust front with our own Sen. Lisa Brown and Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, both Democrats.

Gregoire is struggling as most incumbents are this year, but will Rossi really bring the change he has somehow managed to embody? Balancing the state budget without raising taxes is a happy thought, but it all depends on the larger national and international economy and unpredictable tax receipts. And just what were Gregoire's big-spending sins? She championed smaller class sizes and better health coverage for the state's children. Those are the right priorities for our future.

By all indicators, we're entering a tough stretch here, and Washington state will feel it. In times like these, we need to choose the kind of competence and experience that Gregoire offers, not the false promises of a man who, until very recently, was proud to be a chip off the old Bush block.

U.S. Congress, 5th District of Washington


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & here once was a member of Congress who carried the president's water so dutifully and so blindly that the voters got fed up and fired him for it. And it happened right here, back in 1994, when Tom Foley was crucified for the perceived sins of Bill Clinton. And lest we forget, he wasn't just any member of Congress -- no, Foley was the sitting Speaker of the House.

So here we are, 14 years later, faced with history repeating -- a member of Congress who has carried the president's water so dutifully and so blindly that voters are asking the same kinds of questions. The big differences are that Foley saw it all coming too late and that he had to fight the combined forces of the ascendant Republican machine. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, on the other hand, has been able to see the looming disaster for at least a couple months, and the Democratic machine is not paying any attention to her.

Like many Republicans left to save their jobs in whatever way they can, Rodgers has latched on to an audacious script: She's just acting like she had nothing to do with any of the messes we'll be dealing with for the next decade. Rodgers has spent the better part of two terms signing every blank check that President Bush has put in front of her, running up the debt to unprecedented levels, and now that the account is coming due, not only does she not want to pay, she wants to blame somebody else for raising your taxes. If you buy that sales pitch, sorry, but you're not a voter -- you're a sucker.

Voting against the painful-yet-necessary bailout plan may have scored easy political points, but if Rodgers didn't already know the bailout would pass, that would have been a shockingly reckless game of chicken to play with everybody's economic future. The basic problem for members like Rodgers is that they are perfectly happy to create huge messes -- by not regulating financial markets or by not seeking solutions to our energy crisis -- but they will not lift a finger to clean them up.

The dispassionate wisdom behind the decision to throw Foley out was that Spokane and Eastern Washington kept a hand in the game -- Republicans took over the majority, and this district remained at the table with George Nethercutt as our voice. But now pollsters are predicting Democratic majorities in Washington, D.C., for some time. Under rules first adopted by the Republicans and later continued under the Democrats, the minority members of Congress are shut out of the process. It's not right, but that's the way Newt Gingrich set it up. That means Rodgers, if she wins another term, will be a powerless political orphan. Eastern Washington needs to be in the discussion, not watching from the sidelines.

The job in Congress is simple: oversight. But when you're rubber-stamping the party line, whether your name is Foley or Rodgers, you're not doing the job. That's when you're just another vote in the machine -- a pawn the executive branch can move around. That's when you're no longer representing your district.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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