OLYMPIA — An emotional Gov. Chris Gregoire wrapped up her sometimes bumpy tenure Tuesday, delivering a farewell address in which she reflected on accomplishments of the past eight years she said put the state on solid footing for the future.
On the occasion of her final appearance in front of lawmakers, she beamed with pride as she listed a variety of achievements in education, early learning and children’s health care, as well as transportation and trade.
She also spoke about how the onset of the recession gobbled up tax collections, forcing her to retrench on several of those same fronts and reshaping government operations across the board.
“Despite the challenges ahead, I can say the state of our state is strong. We can say with confidence that in the past eight years, we have built the future of the great state of Washington,” she said. “It is a future of promise, a future of opportunity.”
Gregoire, a Democrat, and the state’s 22nd governor, will leave office today. Democrat Jay Inslee will be sworn in as her successor and deliver his inaugural address around noon.
She is Washington’s second woman governor and her two terms were marked by vastly different economic situations. It roared early then tumbled into recession and is now in a slow recovery.
Gregoire wrote a book on how she dealt with events before and during the recession. Her staff spent part of Tuesday sending copies of the 141-page paperback titled, “Tale of Two Terms: Governing in Good Times and Bad,” to friends.
While the book doesn’t ponder the future, her speech did slightly. She called on lawmakers to tackle two of the biggest challenges facing Washington this session: finding additional dollars for public schools and the transportation system.
On education, the Supreme Court ruled last year the state is not amply funding the basic education of students. Justices put lawmakers on notice they needed to improve the situation by 2018.
Gregoire said a $1 billion down payment should be made in the next budget. She suggested it will require raising revenues because such a large sum cannot be carved out of the hide of existing programs.
“There is no free lunch. Today is the day. Now is the time. We must invest in our children and their future,” she said prompting a standing ovation from lawmakers in both parties.
Gregoire sounded a similar alarm on transportation which she called the “backbone” of Washington’s economic future.
Major projects, such as constructing a new bridge over the Columbia River and building a 144-car ferry, are needed to keep the economic recovery on track, she said. Lawmakers last approved a major roads package in 2005, Gregoire’s first year in office.
Gregoire focused mostly on the past in her speech.
She walked through the many arenas of government, pointing out changes made to improve programs and services and reforms which kept a lid on workers compensation and employment insurance costs.
She highlighted actions to expand high-speed Internet service to rural areas and preserve the safety net for the poor.
And her eyes moistened as she cited her crowning moment of 2012 with the legalizing of marriage for same-sex couples. Grethe Cammermeyer and Diana Divelbess of Coupeville, who married last month, looked on from the gallery.
By the end of her tour, she fought back tears as she said farewell.
“I will miss governing and I will miss you, every single one of you,” she concluded.
Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, chairwoman of the House Early Learning and Human Services, is already missing the governor.
“I am so sad today,” she said. “Creation of the Department of Early Learning was a sea change for the state. It brought a focus to how important those first five years really are for the future of a child and the education of that child.”
Gregoire received sustained applause as she entered the House chambers followed by her husband, two daughters and a granddaughter. Lawmakers in both parties greeted her warmly, many stopping to give her a hug.
Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, embraced her.
“Basically I thanked her for all her support for law enforcement,” said Hope, a Seattle police officer.
He cited her help in toughening the bail laws and enacting Eryk’s Law to boost punishment of serious child abusers. Before signing that law, she invited the young abused boy, Eryk, and his family into her office.
“I knew I was dealing with somebody with a big heart,” he said. “She went above and beyond what she needed to do.”
Republicans gave her a far different reception when she delivered her inaugural address in January 2005.
With the results of the razor-thin 2004 election still in question, many Republican lawmakers chose not to applaud. When she spoke, some even turned their chairs away from the podium in silent protest.
Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, leader of the House Republican Caucus at the time, said there’s been much turnover since then. And they’ve all had time to work with her.
“Even though we rarely agreed, we were able to work together on some things that will be good for Washington,” he said.
As for her legacy, he said, “it will take time to measure the impact of her tenure.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org
State of the State address
Retelling the tales
Gov. Chris Gregoire revisits major events and policy battles which shaped her eight years in office in an autobiographical book titled, “Tale of Two Terms: Governing in Good Times and Bad.” She wrote the book with Fred Olson, her deputy chief of staff and a former reporter.
You can read it at www.heraldnet.com.