Rossi courts his county base

Dino Rossi brought his fiscal responsibility message to Silverdale this week, but many of the attendees were most concerned about whether he would seek a rematch against incumbent Gov. Chris Gregoire.

"I will decide whether or not to run for governor by the end of the year," he said after completing his presentation at a meeting of the Kitsap County Association of Realtors (KCAR). "I have four kids from six to 16, and I need to decide what will be best for them."

Rossi, 47, was the Republican nominee for governor in 2004, and lost to Gregoire in the closest election in state history. After two recounts of totals that Rossi won, he lost in a controversial hand-recount by 129 votes.

In fact, Port Orchard mayoral candidate Lary Coppola introduced Rossi as "the person who won the governorship twice in 2004." Rossi has endorsed Coppola's candidacy, in a move that has already cooled support for Coppola among some Democrats.

Rossi won by a relatively decisive 1,539 votes in Kitsap County three years ago, and on Wednesday noted that "people in Kitsap County have always treated me very graciously."

He then acknowledged several compliments and entreaties to again challenge Gregoire, answering the questions in the same non-committal way.

He bristles when he is compared to Al Gore, another candidate who lost by the thinnest of margins.

"Gore never actually won," Rossi said. "And he was never certified. I was certified twice."

Gregoire, as the incumbent, has a certain advantage in the event of a rematch.

But Rossi doesn't feel any perceived lead will be insurmountable.

"In the last poll that we took, we were in a statistical dead heat,"he said. "And incumbency is a two-edged sword. This next time she will be running on her record. She can't make promises about things that she will do, because she'll be judged on what she's already done."

Also working against Rossi is what he calls the first political rule: The easiest way to get elected is to give people things they want. As an outsider, Rossi cannot bestow governmental favors. But he is counting on the realization that the incumbents are substantially responsible for any budget crisis.

"We're now sitting on the biggest surplus the state has ever seen," Rossi said. "But our spending rate is now at twice our revenue growth rate. Naturally, there will be some growth in the budget, but we can't operate under this large of a deficit. This is not the way that anyone in this room does business, since none of you has the authority to pull money out of other people's wallets.

"If we don't become more efficient quickly," he said, "we'll face the biggest deficit that the state has ever seen. This is fiscally irresponsible at best."

Rossi said Washington is not a hospitable place for small business, noting it is the 14th-most-expensive state in which to do business, and has one of the highest startup rates.

Unemployment and healthcare rates are also out of proportion, and this has a domino effect on the state's economy.

"People think that if Microsoft and Boeing are doing well then we're all doing well," he said. "But we're chasing people of means out of the state. When you chase away people who have money, it affects everybody. These are the people who will start businesses and give jobs to our grandchildren."

Along the lines that children are a most important resource, Rossi thinks that the state mishandled the situation after a high proportion of students failed the WASL.

"If people fail a test, the correct response is not, 'I am going to stop taking that test," he said. "Along with fiscal reform, we need real education reform. Maybe we need to hire people outside of the regular teaching pool and pay them more money."

Following his presentation, Rossi said he was not aware of Kitsap County's budget difficulties, or that local officials are saying much the same thing about the county as Rossi is saying about the state, namely that if immediate action is not taken reserves will be depleted.

"There is a record amount of money coming into the government's coffers," he said. "The problem isn't a lack of revenue. It's a lack of ability to impose restraint on the spending process. The same philosophy works on all levels, examining everything you're doing and funding from the top down."

As Rossi left, he received several pledges of support, including one from a realtor who called herself "fiscal conservative but a social Democrat."

While the KCAR will not make an endorsement for some time, the organization's governmental affairs director said Rossi's occupation of the governorship would lead to better government.

"I like it when there is a balance," Mike Eliason said. "If the House and Senate are controlled by one party, then it's better for the governorship to be held by the other. It keeps everything in check."

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