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Speak the speech I pray you speak

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Gregoire on speechwriter’s job

Whether they like it or not, practically everyone attached to state government in Washington is being forced to cut back.

Universities are cancelling programs and students are facing higher tuition. School teachers are getting layoff notices. State employees are looking at lower wages or higher benefit costs or both.

In the midst of such hard times, does it seem strange to anyone else that Gov. Chris Gregoire is looking for a speechwriter with a possible salary of $63,000 a year? (And no, I’m not jealous because I want to change jobs.)

Whether the job of crafting the governor’s spoken words is worth 63K may be worth discussion. That may be the going rate for someone who can, as the political cognoscenti say, “shape the message”, although the law of supply and demand in the labor market probably doesn’t apply as easily to the craft of speechwriter as it does to say, the craft of cab driver or plumber or bartender.

This isn’t a denigration of the job, which is often filled by former brethren journalists. Goodness knows there are more former journalists in need of a new line of work with each passing week. Anything that gives them a shot at a new career is a good thing.

If the governor had a longtime speechwriter in the job, former journalist or not, it would be cruel to suggest he or she should hit the bricks. But in this case, her speechwriter Hal Spencer left, and she’s looking to fill the spot. Why not do without?

That question was put to Gregoire late last week during an interview with The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board…


During the previous hour’s give and take, she held forth on the state’s current budget woes, expressed even greater concern for the next biennium that could feature equally low revenues but no federal stimulus money and acknowledged that the state’s teachers – some of whom would wave pink slips at her in a few hours to signal solidarity with colleagues being laid off – might be understandably unhappy about legislative decisions that increase class size and forego cost-of living raises.

So why fill the speechwriter spot in tough economic times?

“It’s not OK for me not to go out there,” she said, adding she wrote the speech she was giving to the teachers that evening, and it took her two and a half hours. “I don’t think you want me writing speeches. But I think you want me giving speeches.”

At which point she launched into a passionate discussion of why she needs to go around the state, talk to the residents, keep them informed and hopeful. She gets lots of requests to speak, from Aberdeen to Zillah, on a wide variety of topics. Commencement speeches. Business openings. Gatherings of fellow governors and other elected officials. And she wants to be able to lift people up, get them to look out for one another and help each other get through the tough times, just like people did in the Great Depression.

“I don’t think you ought to have a governor who doesn’t go out and I don’t think you ought to have a governor who doesn’t put any thought into what they say.”

It was a good logical defense, as far as content went.

In fact, it was so good, as an extemporaneous speech, that it arguably made the point that she could go without a speech writer, and not embarrass herself or the state, until the budget picture got a bit better.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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