(Photo credit: Jim Camden, The Spokesman-Review)
"Dino Rossi for governor, GOP. Don't let Seattle steal this election!"
That's the message that the Building Industry Association of Washington has plastered on 61 billboards across Eastern Washington. And in case you missed it, "steal" is underlined.
The builders have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race, and they're tailoring some of their ads to Eastern Washington, where every county voted for Rossi over Gregoire four years ago. But the billboards are the most striking example of Rossi's political allies trying to tap into -- or revive -- lingering regional tensions over Rossi and Gregoire's first faceoff four years ago.
In an interview at the governor's mansion this afternoon, Gregoire called the billboards unnecessarily divisive and said Rossi had -- and lost -- his day in court over Gregoire's razor-thin election victory in the 2004 election.
"I have worked as hard as I could to create one Washington," she said, citing her efforts to free up more water for farmers, boost alternative power and help local economic development groups, among other things.
The state is moving past the idea of an ideological and cultural divide at the crest of the Cascades, she maintains.
"I just think that's a day gone by and never to be returned," she said. "I guess I'd have to say shame on him (Rossi) for trying to divide this state up. That's just wrong. We are one state, and only as one are we as good as we are."
But what about the election and the perception that Rossi was cheated out of victory?
"He had his day in court and he couldn't prove anything," Gregoire said, citing the weeks-long court fight that ended with a Chelan County judge awarding four more votes to Gregoire, who at the time was the state's attorney general. "His theory was that felons voted. Well, if they did, they didn't vote for the woman attorney general."
"It's nice to try and make people angry, I guess," she said. "I think it's the wrong thing. I think people are positive, they want hope. That's why Barack Obama has resonated with them. His (Rossi's) message of be-angry retribution, some of the bumper stickers that he's got out, I just say (are) wrong for Washington State. Those are not the values of the people of this state. We are united. I'm there to solve your problem whether you're in Eastern Washington or the southwest or central Puget Sound, it doesn't matter where you live. We are Washingtonians."
BIAW spokeswoman Erin Shannon maintains that the message is innocuous.
"We're just trying to remind folks in Eastern Washington that they need to get out and vote," she said. "Had they turned out and voted in the same percentages as did King County last go-round, they could have changed the result of the elections. Even with King County's shenanigans."
"We've always maintained that that election was questionable," she said. The election, she said, "just didn't pass the smell test."
Were felons really likely to have voted for an AG, the state's top law-enforcement official?
"Well, other studies have shown that felons will overwhelmingly vote Democrat," said Shannon.
As for the Cascade Curtain being an outdated myth, she said, Gregoire's "the one who's outdated if she believes that, if she believes the people in Eastern Washington feel she represents them." She pointed to the governor's allegedly lukewarm reception for a large uranium-processing plant proposed for the Tri-Cities. The plant -- and it's 400 jobs -- will be built in Idaho.
But if it's about voter turnout, why not say "get out and vote", instead of "steal the election?"
"We want them to remember," responded Shannon. "We want them to remember that they have the power to make the difference."