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Ellen Craswell Shores Up Support At Debate Backers Say She Showed She Can Beat Gary Locke In Governor’s Race

Fri., Sept. 27, 1996

The race many dismissed is on, not over.

Republican nominee for governor Ellen Craswell held her own in the first major debate of the general election campaign Thursday night. She got the laughs and the applause in her face-off with Democratic nominee Gary Locke. He got some boos and hisses.

The debate was held at the Inn at Semi-ah-moo, a posh resort near the Canadian border, and sponsored by the Association of Washington Business, the oldest and largest business group in the state. The debate also was broadcast statewide.

Craswell, dismissed by many as too far right, had to show audiences both at home and at the debate - chief executive officers, top business lobbyists and some of the state’s largest employers - that she can win.

Some said she hit her mark. “People who have written this off are premature. This is going to be a race,” said Richard Hadley, president of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce.

The crowd laughed and applauded Craswell as she talked about the importance of cutting taxes and making businesses thrive, and it hissed at Locke when he dismissed criticism of his support years earlier of a state income tax as “negative campaigning.”

His smooth answers seemed to hurt him, with the crowd warming to Craswell’s more homespun style. She stumbled, but he was slick.

“Gary Locke was very poised and polished and that hurts him,” said Lisa Hildebrand of Metropolitan Mortgage and Securities in Spokane. But “she’s like everyone’s sister or mom.”

Locke hit his main theme of supporting education over and over, calling it “the great equalizer.” But business owners asked more questions about how he would help their companies thrive.

“If our kids have to go somewhere else to find a job, we are just educators for another state,” said Bill Williams Jr., owner of Telect, a Spokane telecommunications manufacturing firm with 640 employees.

Craswell seemed nervous and stiff in her opening statement, stumbling over her words. She loosened up later, charming the crowd with a story about how when she first took office in the Legislature, she “was sure people would learn I was a fraud and send me home. Then I discovered they don’t send you home in Olympia for not knowing anything.”

Locke’s opening statement was polished and professional, hitting on his experience as county executive of King County, the 13th-largest county in the country.

He deflected questions about helping to push through a 1993 tax increase on business - one of the largest ever - saying, “We (the Legislature) raised taxes in a fiscal emergency and we did so to protect education. My No. 1 priority is education.”

Craswell answered tough questions on gambling, abortion rights and affirmative action, opposing each without flinching.

Throughout the night, the differences between the two candidates could not have been clearer.

Asked about affirmative action, Locke said he supports it, while Craswell said, “I don’t think it’s needed anymore.”

Locke stood up for lifting the state taxation and spending limit to pump more money into education.

Craswell said, “The Legislature needs firm limits and guidelines so the state lives within its limits just as individuals do.”

In one of her best shots of the night, Craswell compared Locke with incumbent Democratic Gov. Mike Lowry. “He thinks government has the solution to all of life’s problems. I believe government needs to get out of the way and let people earn their living and live their lives.

“He believes in a state income tax. He believes in raising the (taxation and spending) lid. He believes in same-sex marriage.”

Locke answered, “I’m sure the party will try to morph me into looking like Gov. Lowry. I think I do look different,” and got his one laugh of the night. Locke is Chinese American.

“But seriously, I would not have vetoed the legislation rolling back the business and occupation tax. I support the death penalty.”

Locke didn’t deny supporting a state income tax at one time, but he stressed he would not support or pursue a state income tax as governor. “That is a dead issue.”

Craswell has promised radical cuts in spending and taxes if elected and repeated her pledge Thursday night to cut the business and occupation tax in half during the first two years of her administration and eliminate it entirely in four years if possible.

Locke said he supports further rollbacks of the tax but also said, “We’re stuck with it.”

Craswell closed with a promise that voters would always know where she stands because she would clearly explain the direction in which she wants to take the state. “There should be no surprises.”

Locke closed on a theme of hope, optimism and opportunity through education as the state enters the 21st century.

After it was over, former state Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, now a lobbyist for Johnson & Johnson, a major pharmaceutical company, took stock.

“She came off a lot better than I expected. And she needed to.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THEY SAID IT

Ellen Craswell On paying for education: “I believe with all my heart that the best thing we can do for education, family and the economy is to roll back taxes, cut government and let business thrive.” On government: “The Legislature needs firm limits and guidelines so the state lives within its limits just as individuals do.”

Gary Locke On paying for education: “We raised taxes in a fiscal emergency and we did so to protect education. My No. 1 priority is education.” On the future: “I want to make sure the 21st century is filled with hope and optimism for every family and every citizen in our state.”

This sidebar appeared with the story: THEY SAID IT

Ellen Craswell On paying for education: “I believe with all my heart that the best thing we can do for education, family and the economy is to roll back taxes, cut government and let business thrive.” On government: “The Legislature needs firm limits and guidelines so the state lives within its limits just as individuals do.”

Gary Locke On paying for education: “We raised taxes in a fiscal emergency and we did so to protect education. My No. 1 priority is education.” On the future: “I want to make sure the 21st century is filled with hope and optimism for every family and every citizen in our state.”



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