'Personal legacies' and our new governor
Olympia, WA - Christine Gregoire dropped her inaugural speech on the ears of the state.
The new governor said one thing.
I heard and thought another.
Gregoire told the crowd in Olympia the other day that "we all have a chance to have a positive influence in the lives of others" because "we all leave personal legacies for the people we know and love."
She mentioned pivotal folks in important places when she was younger who shepherded and encouraged her "never to let barriers get in the way" of her dreams.
She promised measures to ensure that "no student gets lost in the crowd and disconnected from his or her own potential."
Hearing all of this, my brain flashed back, first to Gregoire's sorority days at the University of Washington.
As president of Kappa Delta sorority more than three decades ago, she tolerated a "whites-only, Christians-only" rule. She presided over rituals with hooded white robes that even reminded some of her own sorority sisters of the Ku Klux Klan and the sorority's racist roots.
The exclusionary policies hurt young students of color and Jewish students who wanted to feel included in the university milieu. In particular, the policies had a profound impact on Paula Moore, a smart, pretty African American woman from Seattle, who approached the sorority only to be rebuffed. "I'm not bitter about this," UW archives quote Moore as saying. "I only hope that my case will give others a better chance in the future."
Privately, Moore was crushed by the rejection, according to her sister. "She never fully recovered emotionally," the sister recalled to me recently. "She took it to her grave."
How's that for leaving a positive influence on others, for lifting barriers to dreams?
Gregoire smiled during her speech in the Capitol Building.
She preached about "a legacy of holding government accountable" and the importance of requiring "agencies to be more effective and efficient in achieving results, and ensuring that public tax dollars are being spent wisely."
Her comments triggered the memory of when she was state attorney general. Her office missed a deadline to appeal a $17.8 million jury award to three disabled men abused while under state care. At the time, the 2000 judgment was the largest personal-injury verdict ever lodged against the state.
Instead of absorbing blame for the botched appeal -- as a laudable chief would -- Gregoire ducked, blaming an assistant, Janet Capps. That doesn't sound like taking responsibility for an error that walloped wallets of Washington taxpayers. It looks more like a calculating politician covering her rear end and finding a scapegoat.
Some lawmakers clapped as the governor's speechifying continued. Gregoire touched on her fine intentions to improve access to health care. She said she wants to clean up the electoral machine, which showed many warts during her bitterly contested race against Dino Rossi, the GOP candidate.
Gregoire said the people of our state must change "the way we think about partisan politics, and change ... the way we reach out to each other and reconcile our differences."
I wondered if she was tapping a deep swamp of subconscious guilt about her own less-than-lustrous actions. In the post-election whirl, she blamed Rossi for being whiny in disputing ballot numbers and for fishing for votes.
Didn't Gregoire whistle the same tune when she was behind, before a manual recount put her on top? Didn't she famously say every vote ought to count?
Gregoire speaks for reconciliation. Now.
But not so long ago she showed immaturity and incivility by lashing out at Ron Sims, her Democratic opponent during the gubernatorial primary. Gregoire assumed -- ignorantly and wrongly so -- that Sims had a nefarious hand in political machinations that gave life to the story of her ugly sorority past.
She neither earnestly nor publicly apologized to Sims for blasting him at a public gathering. Cut it out, Ron, she scolded, as if Sims, the King County executive, were a terrible toddler.
The governor also never said sorry from her heart about her sorority history. Yes, she gave the politically safe answer, saying she did what she could to fight the good fight at the time. She was just trying to work from inside a racist system -- doing so, presumably, between segregated cocktail mixers and bunny slipper sleepovers.
"If we want unity," Gregoire said, nearing the end of her speech on Wednesday, "we must all be unifiers. If we want accountability, each of us must be accountable for all we do."
I started to feel queasy.
"As Gandhi so famously said," Gregoire rhapsodized, "we must all 'be the change we want to see in the world.' "
I wanted to throw up. Gandhi's ghost, I'm sure, wouldn't want to be invoked in the face of such hypocrisy, either.
As the governor embarks on her future of change, she'd do well to take an honest look in the cracked mirror of her past.
What Gregoire (the person) would see would not reflect what Gregoire (the newly anointed politician) says.
P-I columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. can be reached at 206-448-8125 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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