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September 24, 2007

Gov talks, a bit, about staff changes, re- election plan

Posted by David Postman at 11:42 AM

Gov. Christine Gregoire sparred with reporters at her weekly media availability this morning over questions about recent top-level staff changes and her plans for a re-election campaign.

She also announced that she was having a lawsuit drafted to sue the federal government if President Bush follows through with his plans for cuts in a children's health care program. (More on that later.)

This was the first chance to ask Gregoire directly about last week's news that Chief of Staff Tom Fitzsimmons and Communications Director Holly Armstrong left on their own accord, or were asked to resign as part of a planned shake up.

PoP: Are these changes due to your decision to make changes at the top?

Gregoire: You know, I've seen all this speculation which I think is very interesting. But the fact of the matter is, in the case of Tom, for example, I think Tom may be one of longest, if not the longest-serving chief of staff. I think he's probably the only one who served two governors.

Fact of the matter is, it is a difficult job. It's not a job that is 8 to 5 five days a week. It's a job that is 24/7, 7 days a week. And he and his family deserve the opportunity to look at something else.

PoP: But did you give them that opportunity, or did he decide to take that opportunity? Was it your decision that it was time to make a change, or was it Tom's decision?

Gregoire: These folks want a change in their lives and I respect that. For Holly, as she expressed to me — and she's in the room so you can ask her yourself — she came here, really didn't know anybody, and has worked very hard and wants the opportunity to join family and friends. ...

I think we ought to, one, thank, and two, respect these people for having given so much of their lives to public service with, candidly, insufficient financial remuneration. But you know, they did it because they love to serve. And so I'm most appreciative and I thank them for their willingness to do so.

Dave Ammons, AP: So neither departure was your idea?

Gregoire: These folks want a change and I respect that, totally.

Ammons: OK I gave you a third opportunity.

PoP: It still doesn't sound like you're answering that question directly.

Gregoire: I've answered, and asked it. They want to leave. I respect that. They're free to go.


Jerry Cornfield, The Herald: Are you going to run? Are you going to ask the voters for a second term?

Gregoire: I'm not announcing.

Cornfield: Is there a reason, personal, political, professional, that you can't say publicly today you're running, despite having raised nearly $3 million for a campaign?

Gregoire: Because I'm focused on being governor and I think it's important that I stay focused on being governor. And I want to get through the next legislative session working across the aisle. For three sessions, we've had the tremendous success that we have by working across the aisle, and I want to maintain that ability. This weekend alone I wrote two letters to two members of the House Republican Caucus in which I said, 'I really want to work with you on what, if anything, more we should do to lead this country in regard to community safety in the area of sex predators.'

I don't want to turn it into politics. I don't want to demean the important public policy issues by politics. I want to maintain my relationship with them. They can take off their hats, take off the gloves, once sine die is over. But in the meantime, I want to stay focused on being governor and delivering to the people.

PoP: But does the announcement itself change that? Because, as pointed out, you have raised a lot of money at campaign events. There's no question those are for your campaign.

Gregoire: Right.

PoP: So, do you think that Republican members of the Legislature treat you differently because the formal announcement hasn't been made, even though the money is there? You believe that?

Gregoire: I do. I do, because then everybody will say it's all about politics. ...They've come to know me. Most of them, frankly, didn't know me as well as they do now and I think they've come to know that I am a person who will absolutely work across the aisle. There is clear indication of that. And I want them to know I am fully committed to make that happen in the next legislative session. And I'm not going to do stuff because it's a campaign or politics are involved. I want to maintain that this is about public policy and serving the people. And I'll ask them, just like I have three times before, 'Take your partisan hats off, let's work for the people, let's solve the problems, when sine die is over, put your partisan hat back on and go on out.'

PoP: Do you think Dino Rossi is running for governor?

Gregoire: Absolutely.

PoP: Why is he, and not you? He hasn't announced.

Gregoire: You'll have to ask him.

PoP: No, but he has not announced.

Gregoire: No, you asked if I thought if he was running and I answered, 'Yes I do.'

PoP: Do you think you're running? Are you on equal ground?

Gregoire: Very cute.

PoP: Are you on equal ground?

Gregoire: No, he's not governor. I am.

Chris McGann, the P-I: Do you sincerely think that by not announcing you can prevent this feeling that in the 2008 Legislative session there'll be partisan politics involved and that some of the decisions have a political . ..

Gregoire: There's been partisan politics involved in all three sessions.

McGann: So whether you announce or not ...

Gregoire: But guys, the turnip truck is not leaving the front. I didn't just get off the turnip truck.

PoP: Neither did we.

Gregoire: I understand how the system works. But you know what, I'm determined to do my dead-level best to keep campaign politics out of the next legislative session. And I'm sure not going to feed it by making some announcement today. I'm not going to feed into it. I really want these people to know from the bottom of my heart, I genuinely want to keep working on solving the public's problems and moving this state forward and I'm not going to let the campaign politics get in the way of that.

The governor told us all something we didn't know today. She said that she's gone on inactive status with the bar association. That's because the bar requires her, while governor and signing bills into law, to keep up with continuing legal education requirements. That's not the case for legislators. Attorneys in the Legislature are exempted from those CLE requirements because presumably passing law suffices.

"I'm not paying dues," Gregoire said. But she can still answer questions like an attorney. And that fact collided with the stars today. My horoscope said:

Your job seems to be to make people uncomfortable — that's not an easy task, true, but it's an important one to be sure.

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