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Eye On Olympia

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 16, 2008, 9:28 A.M.

State of the state — how it went

And so it begins.

If anyone had any doubts that the looming election won't heavily overshadow this year's legislative session, look at last night.

For most of an hour, Gov. Chris Gregoire touted her three years in office and a series of Democrat-led initiatives and reforms: a rainy-day savings fund to cushion the state budget in lean years, a new emphasis on math and science in public schools, and a resurgent economy.

"The state of our state is strong," she said early in speech, moving on to the low unemployment rate and the $47 billion in Washington products exported last year.

"I've put on aprons in stores from Mexico to South Korea to sell Washington cherries, French fries and apples, and I've hoisted a glass of Washington's finest wine to promote tourism in country," she said.

Here in Washington, she said, innovative businesses are taking hold. Among them: solar energy components in Moses Lake, medical technology in Spokane and Seattle, and biodiesel in Grays Harbor County. And the state is helping with worker training and education, including more financial aid.

"The bottom line is: We have created 218,000 new jobs in the last three years," Gregoire said. "And that, my friends, is the population of Tacoma and Moses Lake combined."

The speech included personal asides about her daughters (an August wedding, a job) and her mother (cheated out of a paycheck as the restaurant where she worked went out of business). And she urged lawmakers to "give a well-deserved rest to partisanship and politics."

Not likely, judging by Republicans' reaction. GOP lawmakers promptly blasted the speech.

"I thought we saw 10 minutes of image-softening and we saw 35 minutes of themes with no details about any of the policies," said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. He spoke in front of red, three-foot-high numbers -- 33 -- representing a key angle of Republicans' attack on Gregoire. It's how much the state budget has risen over the past three years.

Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, pointedly donned rose-colored sunglasses last night when she gave her televised Republican response, which ended with this:

"Bottom line: Gas costs more, utilities cost more, food costs more, your property taxes are higher, your health insurance premiums have gone up, your commute takes longer, the quality of your child's education is worse, government fees have gone up, the housing market is slowing, our streets are less safe with sex offenders and violent felons roaming free. Had enough?"

Expect lots more of this, from now to November.

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