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January 27, 2003
GOVERNOR GARY LOCKE
I know I like Gary Locke, having interviewed him at least three times. I also like him for the way he delivers his messages. He is extremely eloquent and a listener can tell he sincerely believes what he says - even if its the 100th time he has said it.
My personal feelings are of no account here. I'm going to try and paint him as Washington State sees him. I will present links to many of his speeches and try and develop a full picture of the man and his record.
On Tuesday, he will address the nation following George Bush Junior's state of the union address to Congress and the nation. I do not know exactly why he was chosen. I found out today one big reason is that this year he chairs the Democrat Governor's Association.
He has already indicated his comments will be less about partisan shots and more about solutions for the country. If so, he's a better man than I. I couldn't resist taking some well-directed barbs. But offering solutions is good too - and something I plan to do more with this site.
Gary Locke, bio basics
In 1996, Gary Locke became the first Chinese-American governor ever elected in the nation. He took office on Martin Luther King Jr Day, Jan. 15 1997. He had formerly been a procecutor, and the Executive of King County, the most populous county in the state, with Seattle inside it's boundary.
In 1982 he was elected for three terms (six years) to the state House of Representatives.
He was born in Seattle, Washington. On Jan. 21 he turned 53 years old.
Onto the politics. He is well-liked in the state, overall. He was re-elected in 2000 by a wide margin. His competition was John Carlson, a Republican radio talk show host then and now (who seems to be gearing up to run again in 2004.)
Early on Locke built a record on good feelings, mostly. He was good for the state.
He inherited a tough budget from his predecessor, Gov. Mike Lowry, also a Democrat. The state managed to create and drop money in a rainy day fund. We had a surplus for a biennium. (More of the history and the rise and falls, later.)
Today, that Rainy Day Fund (that was its name) is dry. The state has a $2.4 billion shortfall in a $23 billion biennium that must be erased. The state has a constitutional balanced budget requirement, as do the majority of states.
ILast year the state Leislature went into three extra sessions just to pass a budget amendment to try and shore up $1.2 billion. This was accomplished mostly through an increase in cigarette and gas taxes, as well as a one time grab from tobacco settlement money.
His and the state's predicement has been a public that does not trust the Legislature to handle money. As a result, Referendum 51, a $7.2 billion transportation budget to fund road projects throughout the stateon the back of a 9 cent gas tax increase, was handily defeated.
No money. There have been Public Initiatives passed (aka public petitions) which reduced car excise taxes, and the ability of municipal, county and state elected bodies to raise taxes.
That hasn't helped but it's not the only financial problem in this state. Other states also have large budget gaps to fill (don't call them deficits, they aren't the federal government), without these problems.
Gov. Gary Locke has been criticized in the past for both being too welcoming to business, with directed tax breaks to selected industries or companies, and also critized as being unfriendly to business in not urging a restructing of a Business and Operations Tax that is now widely thought of as unfair. The B&O tax is often cited as a reason that the Boeing Company moved its headquarters to Chicago.
The other main reason, cited, is transportation (mentioned earlier).
We're hurting, who's to blame
For two of the last three years the state House of Representatives has had an exact 50-50 split. No party has had the majority. In one of those years, the Senate was the same. This year, Republicans have a one vote majority in the Senate and the Democrats control the House.
This past reality of the state Legislature has made it even more difficult to get anything accomplished.
In unguarded moments, state Republicans can be heard to say, there is no one to blame for everything - things have happened to this state. For instance, think of the two industries in America that have tanked in recent years. Got them?
That's right, Dot.com technologies and the airline industry. The state for a short period had the highest rate of unemployment (6.9 percent) in the nation. It is still high. We're hurting.
The "fix" Gov. Locke proposes are deep cuts in programs cherished in the state. The proverbial tough choices are being made to slash, among other items:
-- Basic Health provider coverage for the poor.
-- A freeze on teacher's pays, which, with increased medical insurance costs paid out of pocket, will actually result in a pay decrease. This one could be considered a broken promise, as he personally put his efforts behind passing the Initiatives that asked for the pay increase and an another for a reduction in class size.
-- Cuts in the state's WorkFirst program job placement.training program, which he personally administers.
-- A cut overall of 2,500 jobs in state government. This cut would bring the level of government employment back down to the same number as was in place when he first became governor in 1997.
In a state of six million souls, there have been recent reports and strong indications that the state's population is actually decreasing. My theory on this is, if someone is going to be undemployed, they want to do it in a warmer and sunnier state.
The main criticism of Locke now is that there has been inaction and little progress in everything from traffic gridlock to school test scores. He lets serious matters coast for too long, which results in problems that are worse. Remember though, the deadlocked Legislature over the last three years. That doesn't serve to make the job of pushing through innovative legislation any easier.
He opened the NY Stock Exchange Oct. 9, 2001.
He once chased a flying bat around the governor's mansion with a broom.
Later today, THE LINKS I PROMISED. SPEECHES. OTHERS' OPINIONS OF THE MAN
If you can't wait, many speeches can be found at the Governor's Web site