Former govs laud Kitsap, civility

Four former Washington state governors addressed the Kitsap County Association of Realtors’ luncheon on Wednesday in Silverdale, offering political insight and experience filtered through a wry sense of humor and history.

“There is a saying that today’s rooster is tomorrow’s feather duster,” said Booth Gardner, who served between 1985 and 1993. “Right here, we have four old feather dusters.”

In addition to Gardner, the event featured Albert Rosellini (1957-1965), John Spellman (1981-1985) and Mike Lowry (1993-1997). The two other living former governors, Gary Locke and Dan Evans, did not attend.

Spellman was the only Republican, and a main theme of the event was inter-party cooperation and compromise.

Rosellini was the first to mention the fractious and partisan nature of modern politics, which makes such compromise difficult. This idea was picked up by all on the panel, with Spellman urging political participants to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

Lowry suggested a simple solution that originates from the Golden Rule, to treat colleagues as you would like them to treat you.

“In the old days we would fight viciously during the day over the issues, but in the evening we’d get together over a drink and discuss how the problem could be solved,” Rosellini said. Added Gardner, “Politics is the art of compromise. We won’t have a good quality of life unless we’re able to work together.”

They settled into a familiar banter, drawing anecdotes from a shared past. The currently clean-shaven Lowry complained about a follicular inequity, saying that his beard was once likened to Yassir Arafat’s, while Gardner’s current hirsute appearance is likened to Sean Connery.

And Gardner recalled when he was 16 years old and his neighbor — Rosellini — arrived in a helicopter on the adjoining property. He then resolved to be a governor, if only for the transportation advantages.

“If you don’t like the job I did as governor, then blame him,” Gardner said.

All four had problems with the initiative process. All favored the extension of the gasoline tax in order to pay for road improvements. And because they were no longer subject to voter wrath, they all favored the establishment of a state income tax.

“We all want an income tax,” Spellman said. “But no one wanted to be the one to propose it.”

Transportation was a major issue, with its importance underscored by all — even though Spellman was jeered when he said the local traffic “wasn’t all that bad.”

“The man doesn’t drive,” attendee Ann Erickson said later. “How does he know?”

“This is one of the most appealing places in the state,” Lowry said after the meeting. “The county has been doing a good job in handling the growth. I got a good feeling driving up here, that the development was being done right. But they need to solve the transportation problem if the growth is to be handled correctly.”

Gardner also enjoyed the same drive as Lowry, which brought him up through the county’s southern end.

“I’m impressed with the beauty of the area,” he said. “If you stay on this development path, you will be a beacon not just for the state but the entire country.”

The governors expressed simultaneous admiration for and wariness of local government. Lowry said he ran for Congress in 1982 in order to get away from the personal squabbles that permeate county government.

This was apparently facetious, but Gardner was serious when he said, “The local government is where the rubber meets the road. As you go farther up the ladder, you get farther away from what’s really happening.”

The meeting was organized by Mike Eliason, Kitsap Association of Realtors government affairs director, who said the planning process was similar to organizing a wedding with four brides. Noting that the event went off without a hitch, Eliason said he was grateful for the private discussions he had with all of the participants.

“They reinforced the importance of making courageous decisions and staying open to new ideas from people who disagree with you,” Eliason said. “Today’s public meetings have a lot of animosity.”

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