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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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October 28, 2007 8:23 AM

Missed opportunities for Rossi and Gregoire

Posted by David Postman

There's a niche to be filled in the governor's race: The straight talker. As of today, either Democrat Chris Gregoire or Republican challenger Dino Rossi could fill the spot. Neither seems ready, though.

In Rossi's long announcement speech last week there were plenty of specifics on issues that he says he'll focus on in his rematch against the governor. And in question time with reporters afterwards, he gave his thoughts on this year's crop of ballot measures.

But he wouldn't to tell reporters what he thought about the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, one of the most controversial political issues of recent weeks. The Stranger's Josh Feit asked the question and posted Rossi's answer on The Slog:

"I'm not in Congress. I didn't talk about health care in my speech. I gave you all lots of new stuff that you haven't had before. There's a lot to write about."

In fact, he did talk about health care in his speech. But he felt he had dished enough stuff already and wouldn't answer the question. What Rossi did say echoed his favorite response when asked about abortion in 2004:

"I'm not running for U.S. Supreme Court."

Of course you don't have to be on the Supreme Court to have an opinion about abortion and you don't have to be in Congress to have a position about S-CHIP. The state Legislature passed a bill expanding the program and it was signed by the governor, the job Rossi is, in fact, running for.

Knowing Rossi's position on S-CHIP would tell us something. Not only was it a chance to show a distinction between him and Gregoire, he would have to distinguish himself from some of his fellow Republicans. Does he stand with President Bush who thinks the bill was a step toward socialized medicine? Or is he more aligned with the likes of Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, who voted for the bill and to override Bush's veto, but talked of being "dismayed that both parties allowed an issue as important as children's health insurance to devolve into such a bitter, partisan battle." Either answer would have helped place Rossi on the political spectrum.

Don't misunderstand. I don't think candidates or politicians are required to answer questions. There's no First Amendment guarantee of that. And politicians should say "I don't know" more often. That's an answer, and sometimes the most honest. Rossi could have said he hadn't thought about it enough and would respond later. But instead he suggested the question was out of bounds, either because it should be asked only of Congressional candidates or because it was not an issue covered in his speech.

It was a missed opportunity to go beyond easy rhetoric.

It was also an opportunity because Gregoire sometimes has a hard time giving straight answers to easy questions. Thursday she was asked again if she was running for re-election.

"You know, if you can't tell how much I love this job;" but the sentence went unfinished.

"We can talk politics and we can talk campaigns after the Legislative session."

First off, the question shouldn't be asked any more. Of course she's running. And I don't understand why she doesn't say it, saying something like, "Of course I'm running. I love this job. I'm not going to be coy about this. I'm in. My family is ready to do this again. I have already raised $3 million from people who want me to stay another term and worry that my Republican opponent would undo the progress we've made. Of course I'm running. But I have to get busy with the 2008 Legislative session, and when that's over next spring I'll make a formal announcement and get back into campaign mode."

When she says we can talk politics and campaigns next spring, what she means is unless you have money to give her campaign now. She talks politics in fundraising solicitations and at her big-ticket fundraisers in both Washingtons.

She's created parallel worlds where the well-heeled talk politics with Candidate Gregoire while Governor Gregoire tells the masses she must stay above politics. Candidate Gregoire writes fundraising letters saying its shameful Republicans oppose health care. Governor Gregoire maintains children's health care is not a partisan issue.

When the cherry trees blossom around the Capitol next year she'll be ready to tell the rest of us why she wants a second term.

Until then, there's something we in the press corps can do to help. There's no need to ask the governor is she running for re-election. She is. She's filed the paperwork saying so with the Public Disclosure Commission. We don't need to be coy about this, either

The campaign is on.

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