Erica and I sat down with Gov. Chris Gregoire last week and asked her about everything from the budget to gay marriage to education reform—to a question a friend suggested the night before the interview over whiskeys: "When did she become a Republican?"
Here are Parts 1 and 2 of the interview. (The "When did you become a Republican?" question is in Part 2)
Here's the final installment.
PubliCola: The state Republicans' mantra is "reforms before revenue." How do you respond? [Gregoire has responded to this question before by hyping all the reforms she has already done--consolidating agencies, increasing the percentage state employees pay for health care premiums by three percentage points, scaling back workers' comp payments, and lowering business unemployment insurance payments. But this time she took a different tack—trashing the GOP's suggestions.]
Gregoire: What I say to them is, what does that mean? [Chair of the Washington State Republican Party] Kirby Wilbur just said this. Well, what reform? So, recently, I was asked at a press conference by a reporter, what about tort reform? I said okay, let's do tort reform. Okay. How much are you going to book against the revenue shortfall? Nothing. Health care reform? We're leading the country. We set a goal of no more than four percent inflation. Our Medicaid is at 2.6 percent. We're leading the country in that reform. But you know how much I can book right now for that? Nothing more than I already have. Next?
PubliCola: But don't those reforms lead to savings you can book in the future—and we wouldn't be having this problem now if we had looked forward that way?
Gregoire: My point is what do they mean, reform before revenue? We are in a crisis with a $2 billion hole and no way out and you propose a reform. I love this [proposed Republican] reform: You cannot have any environmental standards above the federal level. One, they don't understand how the system works. And two, what will that save me? Show me one job in Louisiana, that has probably terrible environmental rules and regulations, that has been produced or saved because they are degrading their environment.[pullquote]They want to tax tribal gaming. I reviewed it. Illegal. That's basic. Then they want to share revenue. Last I checked, I'm not the dictator. It's a contract..[/pullquote]
So just to be clear, so the feds set a minimum level. We don't meet ambient air quality standards. We'll say in Tacoma for sure that's true. So now we're going to stay at this level? You can't. You have to raise your standards in order to make sure you have the right kind of air quality. The same is true of water quality … and on and on the list goes.
PubliCola: Other Republican ideas include sharing gaming revenues with the tribes.
Gregoire: They want to tax tribal gaming. I reviewed it. Illegal. That's basic. Then they want to share revenue. Last I checked, I'm not the dictator. It's a contract. I tried to explain to them. So, you contract with someone for electrician work in your house and halfway through, you've decided no you don't want to pay that much. Well, tough. You don't just say, I'm not going to pay you. It's a negotiated contract. On Veterans Day, I met with the tribes. They still do not want to do shared revenue. And not all states do, about half. And [the Republicans] want to increase off-reservation gaming. I am not, nor is the public, for off-reservation gaming being expanded. And, by the way, it takes a 60 percent vote [of the state legislature], and they don't have it.
PubliCola: What about making state workers pay more into health care—paying 20 or 25 percent of premiums as opposed to the current 15? [Gregoire increased state workers' share from 12 to 15 during the most recent negotiations and has decreased monthly payments into the state workers' health plan from $850 per employee to $825, saving the state $16 million.]
Gov. Gregoire: I’m happy to [make workers pay as much for health care as they would] in the private sector when they’ll pay state workers what they would earn in the private sector.
PubliCola: Your idea to look into privatizing the lottery seems odd, given that you were against privatizing liquor sales. What's the difference in your mind between privatizing liquor on the one hand and privatizing the lottery on the other?
Gregoire: The problem with liquor is we've gone from one of the most regulated states with one of the best records in America for enforcing non-consumption by minors to one of the most deregulated in the country. I fear there's a price to be paid there and I wasn't willing to pay the price.
PubliCola: And there's not a similar price with privatizing lottery sales?
Gregoire: No. No.
PubliCola: Some people consider the lottery gambling.
Gregoire: I think the state should not be in gambling, to be perfectly honest with you. I've said that all the way along. I don't know why the state is in the business of gambling. That's why I wanted to get out of it a few years ago, but the US Justice Department said, no, you can't. And I think frankly the concern is there'll be too much vulnerability to corruption and the only way you can avoid that is to keep oversight by the states. Illinois came up with a new construct and the Justice Department and the courts approved that. But notice what I said today. If [the private sector] can do a better job [with the lottery, then let them.].[pullquote]I think the state should not be in gambling, to be perfectly honest with you. I've said that all the way along.[/pullquote]
[We have to point out the irony here—in case you missed it—but the standard talking point for liquor privatization, which Gregoire adamantly opposed, was that the state shouldn't be in the business of selling liquor.]
PubliCola: You were an early endorser of President Obama. How do you think he's done? Has he lived up to your hopes?
Gregoire: Everyone is quick to criticize. I honestly believe he avoided a depression in America. Can I prove it? No. Am I sure I'm right? Yes. I happen to serve as chair of the National Governor's Association, so I had more time with him, and spending that time with me showed a guy where it's a crisis a day. It's just never ending. It's an international crisis or it's a domestic crisis. Has he done an amazing job in international affairs? Absolutely.
PubliCola: What are the successes on international affairs?
Gregoire: Well one, Osama bin Laden. Number two, we're out of Iraq. Today. I wish we were out of Afghanistan. We are not. But I trust that we will make the progress. Some of the things that we could have gotten involved in when the protesters [in the Middle East], we typically could have gotten involved and said we're going to take it over. He finessed that, let others lead, but we were there in a supporting role, and are now, I hope, going to be able to make those countries come out of that democratically. I think Hillary has done a fantastic job. I know his cabinet. I respect and admire his cabinet. They work unbelievably well with governors. I like his appointees to the Supreme Court.
PubliCola: Have you talked to the Obama administration about an appointment or job?
Gregoire: There were two things that they were interested in [appointing me to] when I was governor, and I said, I can't leave my state. When you're in a crisis of the proportion that we're in, the last thing we need is the instability of having a governor leave. I'm not looking for a job. If that's your question. I'm not looking for a job. I've often wondered how you turn down the president if he does ask you to serve. I'm there to support him 1000 percent.
PubliCola: On the recent Plan B decision, he overturned the FDA...
Gregoire: That I am upset about...
PubliCola: Are you in line with [Sens.] Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, who expressed great disappointment with that decision?
Gregoire: Yes. In fact, I've emailed my friend [HHS head Kathleen Sebelius, who overruled the FDA]. [pullquote]I wish we were out of Afghanistan. [/pullquote]
PubliCola: What did your email say?
Gregoire: That I don't have a clue what you're doing.
PubliCola: Do you think it was political?
Gov. Gregoire: She didn't tell me that. We're pretty close. She didn't tell me that [it was political]. She said, basically, I had to look at the issue that the report that I got didn't distinguish between those under and over 17 and most particularly those under 12 and between 12 and 17, and I accept responsibility for the decision.
PubliCola: Did you email her back?
Gregoire: I said, we must have dinner and talk about this.
One thing we did not get a chance to talk about was the idea of closing corporate loopholes as part of the budget solution. For the record, Gregoire has proposed closing a number of loopholes, including the break for big banks on first mortgages for $18 million. (She rejected another piece of the liberal agenda, a capital gains tax.)
For a list of her 99 percenter recommendations, which also include a B&O tax on windfall profits for oil companies, go to page 8 of her most recent budget proposal. She correctly notes that closing the loopholes would require a two-thirds majority vote.
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