Like a natural disaster, without the upside

When an economic engine like Boeing snubs your state on your watch, there's not much for a governor like Chris Gregoire to do. Just take the hit and try to move on.
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Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire

When an economic engine like Boeing snubs your state on your watch, there's not much for a governor like Chris Gregoire to do. Just take the hit and try to move on.

The day after Boeing announced it would build its second 787 line in Charleston, S.C., and not Everett, Gov. Chris Gregoire admitted to KING 5'ꀙs Jean Enersen, 'ꀜYesterday was one of my worst days as governor of the state.'ꀝ I wasn'ꀙt here, but it must have been reminiscent of the day in 2001 when Boeing announced it was moving its headquarters to Chicago. Then-Gov. Gary Locke was quoted in the New York Times as saying he was 'ꀜsurprised and deeply sorry.'ꀝ

Unlike a natural disaster — where a governor can shine — there'ꀙs no opportunity for glory when a major company snubs the state on your watch. It'ꀙs embarrassing and politically wounding. Just as governors (and presidents) get credit when the economy is humming and blame when it falters — fair or not — Gregoire has to take this one on the chin.

What'ꀙs odd is how little fight she put up, at least publicly, to keep the second 787 line. Her most visible action was to publish a report that made the 'ꀜbusiness case'ꀝ to Boeing why it should pick Washington over South Carolina. Clearly there was a calculation that it would look worse to lead a vigorous fight and lose than let the inevitable happen. Some have suggested Gregoire should have exerted her influence with the Machinists and insisted they cut a deal with management or else. But perhaps she and they suspected all along that Boeing had made up its mind — and that the labor issue was simply leverage to get as sweet a deal as possible from South Carolina. Or maybe after the last legislative session, Gregoire doesn'ꀙt have much clout left with the unions.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington are spinning the theory that Gregoire poisoned relations with top Boeing brass by walking the picket line with Machinists during her reelection campaign last fall. It is notable that Gregoire was never invited to Chicago to make her pitch for Boeing to build its second 787 line in Everett. It seems plausible that she carried political baggage that prevented her from being an effective saleswoman for Washington.

Also strikingly absent on the Boeing front in recent months have been Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. There was never even a hint, except from minority Republicans, that the Legislature should convene a special session to put forward a competing package of incentives. Democrats understandably may feel the state can'ꀙt afford any more tax concessions for big business. They may also believe the Legislature did enough for Boeing in 2003 when lawmakers passed $3 billion in tax incentives to land the first 787 line.

Calculated or not, the silence in Olympia in the months and weeks leading up to the Boeing announcement was nothing short of deafening.

Whatever the reasoning — whatever the writing on the wall — it didn'ꀙt stop Sen. Patty Murray from attempting a 'ꀜHail Murray'ꀝ in the hours before Boeing officially announced it had picked South Carolina. On decision day it was Murray who stole the limelight. It'ꀙs another example of how in recent months, ever since the election of President Obama, the state's political power center has moved to the 'ꀜother Washington.'ꀝ

So where does this leave Gregoire? At worst, she'ꀙs a lame duck before her time. Then again she has three more years to reinvigorate her governorship. And don'ꀙt forget, Locke presided over Boeing'ꀙs move to Chicago and where is he today? Ironically enough, U.S. Commerce Secretary.


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