SEATTLE – Who's guilty of "Olympia-speak"?
Republican Dino Rossi (search) and Democrat Christine Gregoire (search), clashing in their fourth and final gubernatorial debate Sunday, differed over abortion and gay marriage, education funding and the role of government in creating jobs.
In an often heated 60-minute encounter, they attacked each other's credentials and repeatedly sounded a central theme of their race to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Gary Locke (search): Who is better able to bring fresh blood and new ideas?
Both used the phrase "Olympia-speak" to dismiss the other's views.
Rossi, 45, a commercial real estate agent and former Senate budget chairman, portrayed Gregoire as mere continuation of the unbroken 20-year string of Democrats in the governor's office.
He said Gregoire has mismanaged her own attorney general's office, costing taxpayers millions, and contended that her government background doesn't give her the real-world perspective needed to boost the economy.
Rossi said Gregoire proposed a sales tax hike two years ago and is making very expensive promises to interest groups across the state.
"We're broke and out of work" and the same old gang can't fix Washington's problems, he said.
But Gregoire, 57, shot back that Rossi has been part of the "Olympia-speak" crowd and has refused to call his budget cuts what they are.
"Our citizens don't want Olympia-speak; they want straight talk," she said, at one point invoking the image of a plainspoken Harry Truman and his motto, "The buck stops here."
She said she'd "blow past the bureaucrats" to bring change to government.
Gregoire repeatedly accused Rossi of raising taxes and proposing cuts on the poor and vulnerable. Her examples were a bed tax of $200 per month for nursing homes and Rossi's proposed cuts in children's health care and hospital reimbursements for serving the indigent.
The bed tax was requested by the industry in order to get federal matching dollars. Rossi's original budget included changes in Medicaid eligibility that would have trimmed 40,000 children from the rolls. The cut did not pass the Legislature.
Rossi retorted, "The Olympia-speak is what is coming from my opponent." He accused her of using what he called an insider's notion of a state budget cut — a cut in the increase while overall spending continues to rise.
Rossi, evoking a George W. Bush theme from 2000, called himself a "fiscal conservative with a social conscience."
He said Gregoire is an insider and he is not. Gregoire lives in Olympia, he said, and has spent her whole career as a government lawyer. By contrast, he's from Sammamish in Seattle's eastside suburbs and has "signed the front side of the check" as a businessman.
Rossi talked about Gregoire's office missing several appeal deadlines and costing the state more in civil awards than all her predecessors combined. He said she once violated campaign disclosure laws.
Gregoire retorted that she accepted responsibility for the problems in her office and fixed them, while bringing in billions from her leadership in the settlement with the tobacco industry. She said she runs a "stellar" office with the highest ethics.
If anyone is ethically challenged, she said, it's Rossi because he refuses to acknowledge that his budget proposals indeed hurt children.
She said he exaggerated his credentials, a reference to the campaign description of him as a real estate broker rather than an agent or salesman. An agent receives less training and does not supervise people. The campaign corrected the record a few months ago.
Both said they're better equipped to create jobs. Rossi talked about restraining taxes and government regulations. Gregoire spoke of creating 250,000 jobs, including many from expanded research and development in the life sciences and stem-cell research.
The event was sponsored by KIRO-TV, The News Tribune of Tacoma and The Herald of Snohomish County. It was aired by KXLY-TV in Eastern Washington.
The Libertarian candidate, Ruth Bennett, was not included in the debates. A small clutch of her supporters waved signs outside the KIRO-TV Broadcast House.
Most polls show Gregoire with a lead as the two begin a two-week dash to the Nov. 2 finish line, although several Republican pollsters show the race as a dead heat. Both candidates have raised more than $5 million each.
In the opening round of newspaper endorsements, Rossi picked up The Seattle Times, the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, and The Columbian in Vancouver. Gregoire was endorsed by The Olympian, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Tri-City Herald and The Daily World of Aberdeen. The latter said voters can't lose with either finalist.