Locke amasses war chest for re-election bid - Governor mum on '04 plans



Gov. Gary Locke is maintaining an air of mystery over whether he's running for a third term, saying any decision he makes will involve his wife, Mona Lee Locke.
Despite having raised money for a potential re-election run, Locke insists the decision has not been made.

"We keep our options open, but it's really a family decision," the Democratic governor told The Olympian's Editorial Board on Tuesday. "It's going to be a family decision that Mona and I will have to make when we get a chance to get away.''

Locke was speaking at the newspaper as part of a tour he's making around the state after putting the finishing touches on a 136-day legislative session in which he emerged as one of the political victors.

Locke's no-new-general-taxes budget philosophy won the day as lawmakers bridged a $2.6 billion budget gap and offered The Boeing Co. $3 billion in incentives if it locates its 7E7 assembly plant in the state.

"I think most of the people in the state of Washington would be happy to know we're living within our means and there are no general tax increases,'' Locke said.

If money speaks louder than words, Locke is running for a third term in 2004.

New figures on file with the state's campaign finance agency show that Locke is quietly amassing a war chest, having raised more than $420,000 through May 31. That's a little more than he had on hand at the same time in 1999 during his last campaign, and it's almost nine times the $47,543 raised by Phil Talmadge, Locke's most prominent would-be Democratic challenger.

If Locke does run, he'd be bidding to become the first to pull off the electoral "three-peat" in Washington since moderate Republican Dan Evans did it in the 1970s.

But while his victories in the legislative session give Locke new credibility as a Democratic politician who doesn't have a spending problem and cares about creating jobs, he has lost the support of many in the labor movement, who might jump ship to support Talmadge or other Democrats.

"What I find across the state is that his support from rank-and-file Democrats, union people and human-services and education advocates is at the lowest ebb possible,'' Talmadge said. "It's reminiscent of the support that existed in 1980 for former Gov. Dixy Lee Ray'' before she lost in the primary.

The state teachers' union, which announced a couple of years ago that it regretted supporting him in 2000, has already said it won't support Locke for a third term.

"We are looking forward to finding an education governor next time around,'' Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said.

And Republicans, who think Locke is running but are still trying to settle on a single candidate to oppose him, are taking credit for the same accomplishments that Locke says are his.

"Frankly, it was hard to criticize the governor during the session when he was doing everything the Republicans wanted him to do, at least on the budget and on saving Boeing," state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said.

Vance suggested that the Republican-controlled Senate helped Locke see the light.

"If we had not won a majority in the state Senate, Boeing would not have gotten the legislation they needed to keep them possibly in the state of Washington, and the Legislature would not have voted not to raise taxes. ... Gary Locke has never been a pillar of strength,'' Vance said.

Those criticisms aside, Locke touted what he and the Legislature accomplished, including passage of a $2.6 billion capital budget that could create 13,000 jobs and a $4.2 billion transportation tax package that might create thousands more to ease the state out of its recession.

Locke also argued that the $23 billion state operating budget, which eliminates more than 1,100 state jobs and gives no cost-of-living raises to state employees, did a good job of setting the state's priorities, including retaining increases in education funding.

Locke said his "Priorities of Government" approach is drawing inquiries from other states and even foreign countries.

Locke said his one disappointment was that school-reform bills stalled in the session's final hours.

Eyman's role

Locke had other observations to share with the newspaper's Editorial Board.

Anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman was not much of a factor in the legislative session, Locke said, including during lawmakers' discussions about whether to raise taxes.

Locke noted that legislators raised the gas tax by a nickel per gallon, shrugging off Eyman's frequent warnings against any tax increases. Now that the taxes are scheduled to take effect July 1, Eyman is no longer pursuing an initiative against them. Instead he's gearing up to take a shot in 2004 at the state property tax, which helps support schools.

"If he doesn't like the gas tax, he ought to have an initiative to go after the gas tax and not after schools," Locke said.

State employees and most teachers didn't get pay raises.

"I think people understand these are really tough times,'' Locke said.

The $3 billion tax incentive package for Boeing was needed not only to sweeten the state's proposal for winning the company's 7E7 assembly plant, but also to stave off the potential relocation of other Boeing factories already in Washington.

Locke said potentially 150,000 Boeing and spinoff jobs are at stake if the company leaves.

Olympia schools, which his daughter, Emily, attends, are "great," he said, and so are the schools' teachers, whom he rated an "A.''

Brad Shannon, political editor for The Olympian, can be reached at 360-753-1688 or beshanno@olympia.gannett.com.

On the Web

Gov. Gary Locke: www.governor.wa.gov



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