Round 1 for governor candidates

By HUNTER GEORGE

Associated Press

BLAINE, Wash. – Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carlson, drawing on his skills as a radio talk-show host, accused Gov. Gary Locke on Thursday night of doing absolutely nothing while traffic, development and other problems spiral out of control.

It was a brutal verbal assault that began minutes after the men began their debate, the first of three scheduled before the Nov. 7 election. Carlson at times called the Democratic governor by his first name and repeatedly made statements such as “where have you been?”

At one point, Carlson held up a cell phone and dared Locke to take it, punch a programmed button and call Vice President Al Gore to demand that the federal government drop its anti-trust case against Microsoft.

Locke, who staunchly defended his record of “proven leadership” by outlining numerous successful government programs, marched across the stage and took the phone. “I don’t think you programmed this right. You didn’t expect me to come over here,” the Democrat teased as the audience howled.

The rollicking debate before an audience of about 340 business executives, legislators and lobbyists marked a spirited start to the general election campaign after last week’s state primary. Returns are still coming in, but Locke took about 54 percent of the total vote and has been considered a strong favorite for re-election.

Carlson clearly recognized that he has a lot of ground to cover. It helped that he went on the offensive at a policy summit hosted by the Republican-friendly Association of Washington Business and held near Blaine at the Inn at Semiahmoo resort.

Indeed, Carlson drew applause from many in the audience throughout the 75-minute debate, which was broadcast by TVW, the state government cable channel. A table full of staffers from the governor’s office were the main people cheering for Locke.

For the most part, Locke stiffly stuck to his script and avoided getting drawn into a verbal schoolyard tussle. He cited accomplishments in education, including higher test scores for children and a new program to test new teachers to ensure they have the proper skills. In health care, he touted his new program to use the state’s buying power to help seniors buy prescription drugs.

The governor said he leads by action, not sound bites, and noted he is the only candidate with 20 years of experience as a legislator and executive, someone who has proposed and lived within a $20 billion budget.

When he did direct his attention at Carlson, Locke noted his opponent is using the same pot of tax revenues to promise expensive new bridges near Seattle and Vancouver, essentially spending the same money twice. And he reminded the audience that Carlson once criticized the governor for proposals to reduce class sizes, calling it political pandering with no significant results.

“Well, he now is supporting class-size reduction,” Locke said. He turned to Carlson and added: “I’m glad that you’re on board.”

Still, Locke’s jabs were tame compared to the glib and sarcastic Carlson, who has made a living as a newspaper columnist, television commentator, initiative campaign chairman and think-tank founder, in addition to his work as a radio talk-show host.

Carlson attacked early and often.

He said Locke has failed to keep promises to cut property taxes and reduce traffic congestion, allowed “unelected bureaucrats” at the state Department of Ecology to rewrite shoreline management rules, neglected rural economic development and stood by while the federal government moved to break up Microsoft.

“What is really missing right now in Olympia is leadership from the top,” Carlson said.

That’s pretty much how it went the whole night. Carlson goaded Locke with sarcastic one-liners on virtually every issue.

When Locke defended his decision to await the upcoming recommendations from a panel known as the Blue Ribbon Transportation Committee, Carlson shot back: “Governor, the reason the Blue Ribbon Commission exists is because you would not lead.”

When Locke outlined his work to extend the Puget Sound area’s economic prosperity to rural areas, Carlson snapped: “I think they’re wishing you’d work a little harder on rural economic development.”

When Locke told the business executives in the audience that he proposed and signed legislation rolling back tax increases imposed during the budget crisis of 1993, Carlson reminded them that Locke was the lead budget writer in the House at the time and was himself responsible for the increases.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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