By HUNTER GEORGE
SEATTLE — In John Carlson’s view, the Washington governor’s race is directly connected to the initiatives on Tuesday’s ballot.
If voters weren’t so frustrated with the lack of leadership from Gov. Gary Locke, Carlson says, they probably would not be facing measures asking their approval to build more highways, to cut property taxes and improve schools.
Carlson, a Republican who has never held elective office, has some expertise in this area. He successfully ran campaigns for two initiatives that cracked down on violent criminals and a third that rolled back government affirmative action programs.
When he addresses voters on the campaign trail, Carlson asks them: "Is your morning commute shorter? Are your schools better? Are your property taxes under control?
"The fact there are five ballot measures dealing with those three issues tells me people have serious concerns."
Carlson is the former host of a conservative radio talk-show program who has stepped out from behind the microphone to take on one of Washington’s most popular politicians.
Locke, a Democrat favored to win a second term, says Carlson is all talk.
The governor cites accomplishments in education, welfare and government efficiency, and says Republicans in the Legislature have blocked his proposals to ease traffic congestion and cut property taxes.
"I get results," Locke said, "and I’ll get more."
This year’s race is different than the 1996 election, when Locke emerged from a crowded Democratic primary and beat Republican Ellen Craswell in the general election to become the first Chinese-American governor in the nation’s history. Craswell practically beat herself with her ultraconservatism.
The 2000 race is about leadership. Specifically, whether Locke provides any.
Carlson, looking to break the Democrats’ 16-year hold on the governor’s office, locked up the conservative vote by drawing national radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh to Puyallup for the GOP’s annual picnic. Now Carlson is appealing to independents and to women, particularly in the suburbs.
He held news conferences in Bellevue and Vancouver, Wash., to tout his proposals to ease traffic congestion by building billion-dollar bridges over Lake Washington and the Columbia River. He proposes to cut 4,000 jobs in state government and replace them with 4,000 teachers, phase out the state share of the property tax, save endangered salmon runs by removing fishing nets and overhaul the huge Department of Social and Health Services.
His political consultant, longtime friend Brett Bader, says Carlson is known in the Seattle area thanks to his radio program. But he says Carlson needs to boost his name familiarity with moderates in Vancouver and Eastern Washington.
"With John, traffic, education and a property tax plan are of great appeal to those suburban, independent voters. Clearly, the governor has no lock on their allegiance," Bader said.
When Locke is on the campaign trail, he outlines his vision for the state’s future: schools are safe, children meet tough new education standards, health care is affordable, traffic congestion is eased, the water and air are clean, and economic prosperity thrives statewide.
Locke doesn’t apologize for the absence of bold proposals. He says voters want a steady hand at the helm, and his administration has realistic expectations of making consistent progress in all areas.
He says student test scores are rising, and he pushed through legislation that provides college scholarships to middle-class families and requires testing of new teachers. He says traffic congestion relief will be a top priority of the 2001 legislative session.
Locke, who won 54 percent of the overall vote in the September primary, also has begun reminding voters that Carlson isn’t as moderate as he’d like independent voters to believe. Locke notes that Carlson opposes abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother, and gun control. Locke supports abortion rights and gun control.
Carlson’s policies, Locke says, would leave children in overcrowded classrooms, block cost-of-living pay raises for teachers, ravage public transit and abandon a move to protect delicate shorelines.
The campaign has been far more visible in the last couple of weeks before the election.
Locke, who reported raising $3.3 million and still had $1 million in the bank as of Oct. 10, has blanketed the airwaves with ads touting his accomplishments and vision. Carlson had spent all but $200,000 of the $1.6 million he raised, drawing doubts about his ability to compete with Locke’s campaign in the final weeks.
Libertarian Steve LePage of West Richland is running a shoestring campaign aimed at voters tired of the broken promises from the major parties. LePage, who got less than 2 percent of the vote in the September primary, proposes cutting property taxes by 20 percent, building more roads, repealing the Growth Management Act and legalizing marijuana "with controls."
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