Rossi, Gregoire exchange barbs, with one compliment

SPOKANE — Gov. Chris Gregoire said Republican challenger Dino Rossi seems like a good husband and father. Rossi said he and the Democratic governor have worked well together in the past and he had no personal animosity toward her.

But both said Thursday during their fourth debate that they have fundamental differences on policy, and spent most of the hourlong session battering each other with familiar attacks.

“The incumbent has spent most of her time taking credit or assigning blame, but has not taken responsibility for the problems in our state,” Rossi said during the debate taped at Spokane public television station KSPS for broadcast around the state later Thursday.

“Jabs and one-liners. Mr. Rossi is really quite good at that,” Gregoire said at one point.

Gregoire beat Rossi by just 133 votes in the 2004 election, which was decided after three counts and a court challenge. Primary results and polls indicate they’re in another tight race. Their final debate will be next Wednesday in Seattle.

Both candidates appeared to say little new in the debate, instead relying on the content of their attack ads.

But they were asked at one point to describe something they liked about their opponent, leading to the exchange of pleasantries.

Then it was back to business in the hotly contested campaign.

Rossi said Gregoire had spent her career in state government and had an “Olympia-centric” view of the world that would not lead to solving problems like traffic congestion and budget deficits.

“I’m going to solve the budget deficit without raising taxes,” Rossi said.

Both candidates said they favor the North Spokane Freeway, a project that has been kicked around for five decades but is only now in the beginning stages of construction.

Rossi said his budget plan includes money to finish the highway and address other traffic choke points around the state.

Gregoire said it was a fantasy to think huge highway projects could be funded without raising taxes, as Rossi has promised. Both candidates have said during the campaign that they won’t raise taxes if elected.

A question submitted by a viewer asked Gregoire about allegations that she had received big campaign contributions from American Indian tribes after negotiating compacts that expanded tribal gambling.

Gregoire said she negotiated with tribes because federal law allows them to operate casinos, but she has not received large contributions from them.

“The idea that I have taken money from casinos is an out and out lie,” Gregoire said.

Rossi said the money the tribes gave to the Democratic Party has been “laundered” into Gregoire’s campaign, in exchange for a large expansion of gambling. State Democrats deny the allegation that any money was “laundered.”

Asked about how he would deal with the state’s projected $3.2 billion budget deficit, Rossi said he would not raise taxes but would protect “the most vulnerable people in our society.”

“I would reduce the size of the governor’s entourage,” he said, referring to the governor’s office staff, and match income with spending.

Gregoire said the state budget has been battered by forces out of her control, primarily the financial meltdown on Wall Street and Bush administration policies.

She said she has frozen state hiring and travel and made other cuts that would reduce the deficit to a projected $1.7 billion. Rossi called that “budget gimmickry,” but Gregoire accused him of declining to say what specific cuts he would make.

“All that mumbo jumbo you heard didn’t in any way answer your question,” Gregoire said.

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