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Postman on Politics

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

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August 7, 2008 8:58 PM

Rossi talks up his Native roots

Posted by David Postman

Dino Rossi’s campaign issued a press release yesterday about Gov. Chris Gregoire’s charge that a TV ad attacking her gambling agreement with Native American tribes is racist. The release includes a bit of ethnic political positioning.

“Dino Rossi is part Tlingit Alaskan Native and he has made clear that the issue isn’t about the tribes, who should be expected to negotiate the best deal possible,” said Jill Strait, Rossi spokesperson.

Rossi’s mother was Alaskan Native. He mentions those roots in his campaign, but in this case it is being used to help draw a distinction between allegations of wrongdoing in the negotiation of the gaming compacts and what Gregoire says is racism aimed at those tribal members.

Here’s the ad in question. It is not a Rossi campaign ad, but from It's Time for a Change PAC, which the BIAW controls. I watched the ad when it came out and it didn’t strike me as racist. It makes the old lady who stars in it look sort of goofy. And Republicans have made essentially the same charges about Gregoire and the tribes as they have about Gregoire and the labor unions. Watch this for yourself.

Rossi hasn’t made much of his Native heritage. But he said recently that if elected he’d be the nation’s first Native American governor. (There have been Hawaiian Natives elected governor of that state.) It’ll be interesting if that becomes a bigger part of his campaign. Rossi is already trying to model his campaign after Democrat Barack Obama’s message of change, so why not add an historic first to the effort as well.

Rossi's comments came at a pow wow held by the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. He appeared at the annual event a few weeks back and opened by saying hello in Tlingit. He talked about his mother, and about working for Bernie Whitebear who, he said, “kept a lot of us Native kids alive” by providing food and jobs.

Rossi, according to a tape of the event, also made several references to the “tenaciousness of the Tlingit tribe.”

And, yes, that’s true I will be the first ... governor in American history ... that’s Native American.

Until now I haven't heard Rossi raise his heritage while talking about the gaming compacts.

The Rossi press release said that the issue at hand isn’t race.

The issue is whether there were illegal or unethical discussions surrounding the compacts.

But there seems to be different messages coming from Republicans on the issue. State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser told me last week:

I have never claimed it was illegal for Christine Gregoire to negotiate something that would give nothing to the state and everything to the tribes.

It’s damning with faint praise, and designed as a dig. But Esser says he alleges Gregoire was incompetent maybe, but not that she did anything illegal.

And that echoes what was said recently by Esser’s old boss, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna.

“It was a negotiation," McKenna said. "It was conducted strictly in the framework of state and federal law and it produced a compact which was adopted strictly within the requirements of the framework of state and federal law. Period. And if anyone ever questions the process I would be happy to tell them that, to the letter, we believe the law was scrupulously followed."

That doesn't mean McKenna liked the policy behind Gregoire's negotiations. His comments don't seem to leave much room for the possibility of illegal activity. But maybe the Republican AG and the chairman of the Republican Party just aren't being tough enough on Gregoire for Rossi's tastes.

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