Is good news for Washington bad news for Dino Rossi?

While Gov. Chris Gregoire trumpets her leadership in the state's booming economy, likely GOP candidate Dino Rossi is sweltering in Moses Lake, warning of trouble ahead.
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Former Washington state Sen. Dino Rossi, twice a candidate for governor, is running for the U.S. Senate.

While Gov. Chris Gregoire trumpets her leadership in the state's booming economy, likely GOP candidate Dino Rossi is sweltering in Moses Lake, warning of trouble ahead.

In Seattle, you could almost hear the cackling coming from Gov. Chris Gregoire's office 60 miles away in Olympia. Did you see the article in Forbes magazine? Washington jumped from 12th to 5th as the best state for business. It didn't take long for Gregoire's office to distribute that article to reporters. Good news is especially welcome by incumbents as a validation of their work, but especially so because it undercuts the message of likely rival Dino Rossi. Rossi says he's not a candidate, but he's acting like one. For months, he's been criss-crossing Washington, making speeches and warning that overspending by Democrats is putting the economy on a crash course. For Washington CEO magazine, I followed Rossi over to Bremerton, where he spoke to a GOP women's group: Rossi, 47, is a real estate investor and former state Senate budget chairman who helped close a budget gap in 2003 without raising taxes. He's traveling across Washington, giving a presentation on state finances and predicting a fiscal train wreck. There's a polish to his lack of polish. He jokes that his name sounds like a brand of wine. He pulls off a stinging indictment of Gregoire without sounding bitter or resentful. It's a Reaganesque there-they-go-again attack on the Democrats' $33.4 billion budget for 2008-2009: Gregoire and her colleagues have launched so many new spending programs that a shortfall of at least $1.2 billion is inevitable by the end of 2009. Those same Democrats, he says, will raise taxes on business to close the gap. Left unsaid is that Rossi is the best person to stop them. At the end of the Bremerton speech, one of the Republican women asked Rossi when he was going to run for governor again. Rossi gave his standard answer of deciding before the end of the year. Rossi's speeches are officially a function of his nonpartisan Forward Washington think tank and as such are exempt from campaign-contribution disclosure laws. The Democratic Party, however, is making the walks-like-a-duck argument and has persuaded the state Public Disclosure Commission to investigate. When I reached Rossi by phone on Thursday, July 12, he was driving back from an appearance before a Realtor group in Moses Lake, Wash., where the temperature was expected to reach 106 degrees. He dismissed the complaint against his foundation as "baseless, meritless complaints from Christine Gregoire's political operatives. They're obviously afraid of something." Maybe so, but the economic trend lines are a problem for him. If Rossi becomes a candidate, he faces a tougher-than-normal race as a challenger who must convince voters to fire the incumbent. His near victory in 2004 positions strongly, but he still has to cast himself as the solution to a problem called Gregoire. But what can Rossi do when the unemployment rate goes down, Boeing unveils a new plane that sets record sales, and surging state revenue create a $1 billion budget surplus? For starters, Rossi says that many of the big indicators followed by Forbes are driven by the national economy, not by state government. One exception is Boeing, and Rossi claims to be a major author of the incentive package that got the 787 built here. Rossi says you need to look deeper and see that Washington is expensive for small- and medium-sized businesses, especially in costs for workers compensation and unemployment insurance. Washington has one of the highest rates in the nation for failure by small businesses, the area where state government should be more effective, he says. Events over the next year (Viaduct, Part II?) can change perceptions, but Gregoire seems to be cruising, like a 787 Dreamliner. "Our top five ranking in the Forbes survey confirms that Washington is moving in the right direction and that our state is a great place to do business, work and raise a family," she said in the press release. Rossi can't dispute the roses growing in Washington's garden. He's saying the retaining wall has inadequate drainage, and a deluge is coming. He's a gifted politician, but on a scorching day in our state, and in our economy, it's a tough sell.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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O. Casey Corr

O. Casey Corr is a Seattle native, author and marketing communications consultant.