Rossi gathers ideas at Vancouver forum

Friday, June 15, 2007
BY KATHIE DURBIN, Columbian staff writer
The Columbian

Vancouver, WA - Republican Dino Rossi brought his "Idea Bank" tour to Vancouver Thursday evening in an event that he insisted was not a warm-up for a rematch against Gov. Chris Gregoire next year.

Rossi, the former state senator who lost to Gregoire in 2004 by just 133 votes, is holding idea-gathering forums around the state in June and July - everywhere, he says, except Seattle.

Gregoire won the closest gubernatorial race in the nation's history after two recounts and a court challenge by carrying King County and seven other counties in Western Washington. Rossi won in the other 31 counties, including Clark.

About 40 people, most of them unabashed Rossi fans, showed up at Clark College for the forum, billed as a way to gather ideas from ordinary citizens about how to solve Washington's problems. Also present was a two-man film crew sent by the Democratic Party. Rossi welcomed them, too.

"I spent seven years in Olympia," he said. "There's a whole lot of folks down there who know absolutely everything." Instead of "thou-shalts" from elected leaders, he said, his Forward Washington Foundation is about "grass roots, a ground-up versus a top-down approach."

Rossi then proceeded to deliver what sounded a lot like a campaign speech.

"The priorities in Olympia are a little out of touch," he said. The Democratic-controlled Legislature has increased spending by 33 percent in just four years. "They've blown through the biggest budget surplus the state has ever known."

No naming names

He accused spendthrift politicians of pandering, without naming names. "The easiest way to get re-elected is to give people things," he said.

Rossi called for getting rid of the estate tax, passed by Democrats in 2005. "It chases people of means out of our state," he said, and with them go good jobs.

He called for reinstating the spending limit voters passed by initiative in 1993, which he said the Legislature repealed in 2005. (Both political parties have found ways to skirt the spending limit when in power.)

And he said he first introduced the idea of a constitutionally protected rainy day reserve fund in 2002 - an idea that Democrats, including the governor, embraced this year.

Members of the audience wrote out observations on index cards on topics ranging from car license fees to the proposed Cowlitz Tribe casino to the need for job development in Clark County. Jim Keithley of the Clark County Association of Realtors called for rewriting the Growth Management Act. One audience member complained about the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, another expressed concern about the plight of homeless veterans.

Rossi listened politely.

Then Alice McClure said what was on everyone's minds: "A lot of us want you to run again."

To loud applause, Rossi smiled and said, "We'll talk about that later in the year."

Rossi says he won't announce until December whether he will run.

Gregoire's aides say she won't make a formal announcement of her own reelection plans until after next year's 60-day legislative session. But on Wednesday, she held a fundraising banquet in Seattle that drew 1,200 supporters and raised $250,000.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer headlined the event, and predicted that Gregoire would win re-election next year with a landslide 68 percent. Spitzer and Gregoire became close allies when both were attorneys general, and Gregoire raised money in Seattle for Spitzer's gubernatorial bid last year.

Before this week's event, the governor had $1.2 million on hand.

Republican leaders say their party's nomination next year is Rossi's for the taking. But he has raised no money for a second statewide campaign, and some GOP members are getting nervous; they have no obvious runner-up to challenge Gregoire at this point.

Since 2004, Rossi, a real estate investor, has written a book and started the Forward Washington Foundation to gather ideas from the public. On the foundation's Web site, citizens can make suggestions on tax policy, transportation, education and general government issues. Others can weigh in on whether or not they agree.

Asked after Thursday's session why he would put forth so much effort to gauge public opinion if he weren't planning to run, Rossi chose to talk about Gregoire instead.

"All I have to do is say what I'm going to do and the governor does it," he said with a smirk. For example, he recently scheduled talks to business groups in Sammamish and Kitsap County. The governor showed up in both places the following week, he said.

"Imitation is the greatest form of flattery," Rossi said. "Original thought is out the window."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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