Washington’s ex-governors get into it for TV

SEATTLE — Four former Washington governors spent an hour in a television studio Tuesday dishing on the high, low and unforgettable moments each experienced as the state’s chief executive.

And then it got interesting when the two liberal Democrats and two moderate Republicans detoured into politics.

Democrats Chris Gregoire and Mike Lowry and Republicans Dan Evans and John Spellman all praised last week’s Supreme Court ruling toppling a voter-approved requirement for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

“Two-thirds doesn’t make any sense,” said Evans, the state’s only three-term governor who served from 1965-77. “You can’t let the minority run the government or the state.”

But Gregoire, who left office in January after two terms, said not to expect a flood of new taxes this year because lawmakers know how popular the supermajority rule is with voters.

“I would be shocked if legislators run wild right now,” she said.

Then Evans added a spirited exclamation: “No legislator likes to do it unless they have to do it. Doggone it; the people have the last say.”

The gubernatorial quartet gathered in the KCTS9 studio in Seattle to tape an hour-long special to air April 16. Enrique Cerna of KCTS and Joni Balter, assistant political editor of The Seattle Times, moderated the conversation.

While each of the four ex-governors served in a different decade, they shared a similar passion for public service when they ran for the office.

Of course, not every one had an equally easy time getting the job.

Spellman first ran in 1976 and lost to Democrat Dixie Lee Ray, the state’s first woman governor.

“We didn’t see her coming on and it was kind of a shock,” he said. “We didn’t know how to lay a glove on her.”

Four years later he ran again. He expected a rematch but she lost in the primary. Spellman went on to defeat Democrat Jim McDermott and is the last Republican to serve as governor.

Gregoire etched her place in state history with a nail-biting defeat of Republican Dino Rossi in 2004 following recounts and a court case.

When asked to describe her experience, she joked: “One word comes to mind, refresh.” She was referring to continually checking online for the updated tallies of votes during the final hand count.

Once in office, each dealt with budget shortfalls. Three — Spellman, Lowry and Gregoire — raised taxes to help fill the gap.

“It had to be done,” Spellman said, adding the money was needed for schools and social services. “It didn’t help me politically.”

Evans, meanwhile, tried twice without success to win voter approval of an income tax as part of a larger reform package.

“We got our heads handed to us” the first time, he said. “We tried it one more time and it was almost three-to-one. People will live with the taxes they know. When something new comes up, they get skeptical.”

Lowry, who served from 1993-97, sounded much like a candidate again when he called today’s opposition to taxes “self-defeating. I think we’ve kind of lost sight of the importance of a well-run government. We need to get more revenue into this state.”

The potential of initiatives to handcuff lawmakers and governors in budget-writing and policy-making united the foursome.

“I think initiatives are leading us to anarchy,” Spellman said, adding he’d like to see some areas of government immune to change through initiatives.

As for achievements, Lowry cited his expansion of the Basic Health Program providing subsidized health insurance to the poor while Spellman said it was establishing a relationship with China which is now the state’s leading trade partner. Evans said he’s most proud of creating the community college system and the Department of Ecology.

One of the more emotional moments came when they discussed their toughest decisions.

For Gregoire, it was endorsing marriage for same-sex couples. She said she struggled with it mightily and “the weight of the world was lifted” when she went public.

Her most difficult day was the one when four Lakewood police officers were gunned down.

Lowry said he regrets not commuting the death sentence for convicted Snohomish County triple murderer Charles Campbell in 1994. Lowry opposed the death penalty but said he could not override the actions of the courts which had rejected Campbell’s repeated appeals.

One of the last questions they faced is how they prepared for life after being governor.

For Gregoire, it meant re-learning how to drive after eight years of getting chauffeured everywhere. She said she’s gaining her confidence, though not so much with parallel parking.

“It’s an adjustment,” she said. “Parking the car is an adjustment.”

Evans, who also served as a state lawmaker and U.S. senator, welcomed not being in the spotlight.

One of the frustrations of being governor, he said, is everyone recognizes you and you can’t get away with your family.

“It ultimately fades away and anonymity returns,” he said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

When to watch

The Governors: A KCTS9 Special will air at 7 p.m. April 16.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

Two Washington State ferries pass along the route between Mukilteo and Clinton as scuba divers swim near the shore Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Ferry shuffle: Mukilteo, Edmonds riders can expect ‘loading delays’

For four weeks, Mukilteo sailings will be reduced by 34 cars and Edmonds by 20 cars, in boat swap due to ferry maintenance.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Logo for news use featuring Whidbey Island in Island County, Washington. 220118
Freeland massage therapist charged with sex crimes

The judge set bail at $7,500 for the health care provider, who was accused of sexually assaulting two clients last year.

Suspected DUI crash injures trooper on I-5 north in Lynnwood

WSP spokesperson said two suspected impaired drivers have crashed into a state trooper in the past 24 hours.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

State Trooper Isaiah Oliver speaks to a BNSF worker at mile marker 31.7 as road closures and evacuations mount in response to the Bolt Creek Fire on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022, on U.S. 2 near Index, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
As wildfires creep west of Cascades, county plans for next Bolt Creek

Wildfires are an increasing concern in Snohomish County. A new project aims to develop a better plan.

Everett High seniors, from left, Avery Thompson, Lanie Thompson, Melissa Rosales-Alfaro and Saron Mulugeta sit together in front of their school on Monday, May 20, 2024, in Everett, Washington. The group have called to question their district’s policy that does not permit graduates to decorate their mortarboards or graduation clothing. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
After student campaign, Everett schools allows custom graduation caps

“It’s a really good first step,” the Everett High School ASB president said. But the students still want relaxed rules for future classes.

People hang up hearts with messages about saving the Clark Park gazebo during a “heart bomb” event hosted by Historic Everett on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Future of historic Clark Park gazebo now in hands of City Council

On June 5, the Everett council is set to decide whether to fund removal of the gazebo. It could be stored elsewhere.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.