It's Governor-elect Gregoire, but Rossi seeks 'do-over' - Counties opposing GOP call to reopen vote counts

By David Ammons
The Associated Press
The Seattle Times


OLYMPIA, Wash. - The night before Washington's secretary of state was scheduled to certify Democrat Christine Gregoire as the governor-elect, her Republican rival Dino Rossi called for a complete re-do of the longest, closest governor's race in state history.

"The uncertainty surrounding this election process isn't just bad for you and me -- it is bad for the entire state. People need to know for sure that the next governor actually won the election," Rossi said Wednesday evening, reading from a letter he sent to Gregoire.

"A revote would be the best solution for the people of our state, and would give us a legitimate governorship," the letter added.

Gregoire, the three-term state attorney general who fought America's tobacco industry, Internet porn and schoolyard bullying, won a hand recount by a scant 129 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast.

Gregoire's spokesman Morton Brilliant said she would not be joining Rossi's call. "It's irresponsible to spend $4 million in taxpayer money on a new election just because you don't' like losing this one," Brilliant said.

More than eight weeks after Election Day, the Republican secretary of state, Sam Reed, on Thursday planned to certify the results of the unprecedented third vote tally. The statewide hand recount put Gregoire ahead for the first time, by just a tiny fraction of 1 percent.

Rossi, the former state Senate budget committee chairman, won the regular tally last month by 261 votes, triggering an automatic machine recount. He won that count, too, by 42 votes.

Democrats, aided by presidential candidates John Kerry and Howard Dean, rounded up $1 million in donations, mostly online, to order the hand recount.

That count, done precinct by precinct by bipartisan teams with swarms of observers watching, showed Gregoire ahead by just 10 votes. After Democrats and election officials got permission from the state Supreme Court, a batch of more than 700 wayward ballots in King County was tallied, stretching her lead to three digits.

While noting that he could contest the election, Rossi said a legal challenge could drag on for weeks or months. The better way to clear up the mess, he said, would be to ask lawmakers to pass a bill calling for a special election as soon as the Democrat-controlled state Legislature convenes in early January for the 2005 session.

Earlier in the day, Rossi's spokeswoman Mary Lane said he and his advisers, including state GOP Chairman Chris Vance, were weighing whether to proceed with contesting the results.

Gov. Gary Locke said he strongly disagrees with Rossi's call for another election. "The people have voted, and all votes properly cast were counted," said Locke, a Democrat who's retiring after two terms.

When Reed certifies the hand recount Thursday, Gregoire will become the official "governor-elect." Rossi had been using the title, although Gregoire's camp called the race essentially tied and refused to concede.

Both Gregoire and Rossi have maintained transition offices, appointing teams to work on a state budget, cabinet appointments and an agenda for the upcoming Legislature.

Rossi and his family even toured the Governor's Mansion.

State Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said Rossi should either concede or immediately present evidence showing he has legal grounds to challenge the election.

Rossi already has been mentioned as a challenger to first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who faces voters in 2006.

Gregoire, who would be only the second female governor in Washington history, was a top official in the attorney general's office before then-Gov. Booth Gardner tapped her as state ecology director. In 1992 she was elected to the first of three terms as attorney general.

She made her mark as lead negotiator between the states and America's tobacco industry, winning a landmark settlement that should bring the states over $200 billion.

The settlement compensates the states for tobacco-related health care costs, and curbs marketing efforts like billboards and ads aimed at youth. In exchange, states agreed not to pursue potentially crippling lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Gregoire negotiated a pact with the federal government to clean up contamination at the Hanford nuclear reservation. She also dealt with Internet child porn, schoolyard bullying, identity theft, Enron and Western power rates.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company



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