Gorton and Locke team up to lead drive for transportation vote

Saturday, March 23, 2002


OLYMPIA -- Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton has teamed up with Gov. Gary Locke to head the election campaign for the multibillion-dollar transportation referendum on the November ballot.

The longtime GOP stalwart and the moderate Democratic governor will be co-chairmen of the campaign committee to persuade voters to approve tax increases -- including a 9-cent-a-gallon gas tax boost -- to finance $7.7 billion in highway, rail and transit improvements.

"It's a great alliance. I think it shows the true necessity and bipartisan support for the transportation package," said Pearse Edwards, Locke's spokesman. "I think it's a great signal to the people of Washington state."

Locke and prominent business leaders have said the transportation package is vital to keep companies from moving out of the area and to ease the congestion that frustrates commuters.

Gorton, a former state attorney general who now works for the Seattle law firm Preston, Gates and Ellis, said he also supports the regional package passed by the Legislature this month that allows King, Pierce and Snohomish county voters to raise billions in additional taxes.

"I think that both of the referenda are important to the state and important to solving our transportation problems, he said.

Last fall, Gorton lent his name to the campaign opposing statewide Initiative 747. Still, nearly 58 percent of voters approved the property tax limitation measure.

Top legislative transportation negotiators said yesterday that the Locke-Gorton alliance would help in the daunting challenge of persuading voters to tax themselves.

Rep. Maryann Mitchell, R-Federal Way, called it a "nice combination."

"He brings fund-raising ability and that is going to be one of our major problems," Mitchell said. "He will have a lot of influence in some parts of the state, areas where perhaps Locke would not have enough influence."

Tacoma Democratic Rep. Ruth Fisher, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, added, "Slade Gorton really has a good grasp of transportation, particularly public transit.

"I think all of us that are involved in transportation are going to be out there," added Fisher, who is retiring from the Legislature this year. "It is really important that this thing pass."

Bellevue Republican Sen. Dan McDonald, the top GOP transportation negotiator in the lower chamber, said he, too, is happy to hit the campaign trail with the governor.

"The voters have a tough question to answer: Are we going to move forward on the transportation front?" said McDonald, who is also retiring.

"I think everybody knows that we have to, but it's always a hard bullet to bite."

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen said she hopes the two also bring into the campaign high-profile backers from Eastern Washington, to break the stigma that the campaign boils down to a fight between Western and Eastern Washington politicians.


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