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Ratings Fall, But Lowry Not Cowed Says Conservative Revolution Strengthens His Sense Of Purpose

Mon., July 17, 1995, midnight

Gov. Mike Lowry, his tie loose and his collar open, spins around in his chair.

Whipping open the credenza behind his desk in the state Capitol, the governor produces with a flourish a poster from his 1992 campaign listing his promises to voters.

“I like to take it out and reread it every now and then,” Lowry says, grinning.

He might as well keep it handy: Anyone convinced Lowry won’t run again in 1996 hasn’t talked to the governor lately.

Upbeat, energetic and enthusiastic, Lowry said last week the conservative revolution under way in the state and nation’s capitals only encourages him to stick around.

“With what’s going on in this country and in this state politically, I definitely think I need to be here, as governor, now more than ever.”

But not everyone thinks so. Lowry has been under fire since taking office.

He has been attacked for raising taxes. He has been dogged by allegations of sexual harassment which led him to agree last Friday to pay a former female employee $97,000 to avoid a lawsuit.

He has been questioned about his drinking and has been quizzed about his lead foot.

“I never said I was Jesus Christ,” Lowry said, summing it up nicely.

He is an unabashed lifelong liberal in a time when most politicians are afraid to utter the L-word.

And while Lowry always has been a bottom-scraper in the polls, his recent performance ratings are setting new lows. Three-fourths of voters surveyed last month called the governor’s performance unfavorable.

It all has some Democratic leaders hoping Lowry will declare his political intentions soon. That would provide time to build support if he runs again or clear the field for alternative candidates if he doesn’t.

Some wonder if he should.

“I have very mixed emotions,” said Lois Clement of Bellingham, who heads the organization of Democratic county chairs.

“I like Mike … but I want to win, too.”

But Lowry said he won’t be rushed into an early campaign.

“These people who say I should announce are way off politically. If other candidates want to run, they ought to run. I am nobody’s mother.

“I’ll decide when to announce, based on what will make me the most effective governor.”

“There was nothing said other than that this has been tough personally,” Lowry said of his time in office.The governor’s voice grew low as he recalled the impact the sexual harassment allegations have had on his family.

A former press aide, Susanne Albright, complained privately this winter about uninvited hugs and pats from the governor. She never filed a formal complaint, and an investigation requested by Lowry found his behavior had not risen to the level of sexual harassment.

“There was a round of the papers bringing accusations. There were tears in my wife’s eyes,” Lowry recalled. “That was a while ago.”

On Friday, the governor’s personal attorney announced an agreement to pay Albright $97,500 in three installments to settle her complaints.

Lowry said the agreement is not an admission of guilt, but rather, a way to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming litigation.

While he always has said he will run again, Lowry now adds one caveat: He will consult with his wife, Mary, and daughter, Diane, first.

Lowry said he thinks they will urge him to stay in the ring.

“They believe very much that it’s important that I’m governor, and they care very much about the issues I care about. I think they are going to say ‘Mike, I want you to run.”’

As for himself, “I want to run for governor just as much today as any other time.”

He said he has a convincing record. Since Lowry took office, the state’s unemployment rate has dropped, and a 10-year trend of growth in the state employee work force has halted.

The economy has remained relatively strong despite layoffs at the Boeing Co. Population continues to grow as people flock to the state.

“It’s for our quality of life. People want to live here; they want to raise a family here, start a business here,” Lowry said.

He is convinced that Republican plans to roll back social services, environmental programs and health and safety regulations are wrongheaded.

Meanwhile, Lowry has sunk to a record low in a statewide poll, with 76 percent of voters rating his performance as unfavorable.

Even among core supporters, Lowry’s ratings have dropped since December from 2-to-1 positive to 2-to-1 negative.

Women have shifted 31 points, with 77 percent of women voters statewide now rating his performance as unsatisfactory. Seattle voters, who Lowry once represented in Congress, have shifted 24 points to give Lowry a 58 percent negative rating.

“His base is crumbling,” said pollster Stuart Elway, who surveyed 400 voters statewide in June. The poll has a 5 percent margin of error.

Still, it would be foolish to write Lowry off, Elway said. “Look at George Bush, one year before the election, with record-high approval ratings.

“It’s easier to squander good ratings than to undo poor ones. But a year is a long time in politics.”

And the election is not until 1996.

State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, the most-often mentioned Democratic alternative to Lowry, said last week she would not run against him.

While some have assumed she would run if Lowry gets out of the race, Gregoire said she has made no such decision.

“At that time, I would sit down and have a lengthy conversation with my family, but I have not had that conversation yet.

“It has been my expectation all along that Mike Lowry would run again for governor.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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