Battle for college heads to Olympia

The state can plant a flag for a new University of Washington campus at any of four competing sites in Snohomish County and end up just fine.

It is possible to provide the desired courses, buildings and housing for an enrollment of 5,000 students by 2025 at Everett’s transit center or riverfront, in Marysville or in Lake Stevens.

This is all spelled out in the 10-chapter site recommendation report released Thursday by NBBJ of Seattle.

If the firm had its druthers, Everett Station should be dressed in purple and gold. But it doesn’t; all the druthers belong to members of the Legislature, the majority of whom will follow the advice of lawmakers from Snohomish County.

Earlier this year, a carload of the area’s legislators jousted at length on whether to push for a UW branch campus or an independently run university.

As time wound down on the session and their positions hardened, threatening to torpedo the university, Gov. Chris Gregoire interceded to extract the conclusion — not a compromise — of the branch campus.

Now, picking a site is the task at hand and unless and until that’s completed there can be no substantive talks on when classes can begin and how operations are funded.

Not surprisingly, those lawmakers who disagreed before are not of one mind today on where to pour the foundation.

This go-round they are not alone in the conversation. They’ve been joined — surrounded at times, it seems — by columns of boosters for each site and a small covey of lobbyists.

Emotions are as high as the stakes because this university will enhance the cred and enrich the coffer of the city fortunate enough to snag it.

It’s fueled a loud, strident and, some believe, nasty dialogue.

Drawing the most ire is Strategies 360, a lobbying firm run by veteran political consultant Ron Dotzauer. They’ve been hired to push the Marysville site under separate contracts with the city and with the owners of the property where the college might go.

They got into the game late and raced to offset a year of quiet lobbying by the city of Everett by doing a little trash-talking about the sites in Everett.

No question, their tactics have angered folks. There is real concern it is fueling a level of rhetoric that will burn up any chance of getting a site chosen by the Legislature in 2008.

When lawmakers arrive in January they will have a lot on their minds, like putting a cap on tax hikes and locking up more sex offenders.

And getting re-elected in 2008.

They’ll be itching for any reason not to vote, and visible discord among interests in Snohomish County qualifies as one.

This week, Gregoire called around to legislators, city leaders and higher-ups in Strategies 360, urging all to tone it down and advocate in a positive way.

Otherwise no one will be hoisting a UW flag anytime soon.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield’s column on politics runs every Sunday. He can be heard at 8 a.m. Monday on the Morning Show on KSER 90.7 FM. He can be reached at 360-352-8623.

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