October 31, 2007 in City

Gregoire visit draws 600

By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Gregoire
(Full-size photo)

Washington residents who oppose the war in Iraq shouldn’t let that spill over into disrespect for the troops, Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a town hall meeting Tuesday in Spokane Valley.

Saying that her toughest job as governor is attending the funerals of Washington residents killed in the war, Gregoire made an impassioned plea for support of the troops, regardless of support or opposition to the war.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Gregoire defended the state’s efforts to help small businesses, promised help for the state’s overloaded child welfare and child protective service workers, and said the state would conduct a “full review” of a for-profit organization’s proposal to take over Deaconess and Valley hospitals. She got advice on forcing schools to reduce class sizes and abandoning WASL tests; she gave advice on how to handle MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staphylococcus.

Don’t panic, she told a student, but do watch your personal hygiene and, especially, wash your hands.

The most emotional point of the night came as she was asked by Rusty Nelson, of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, about sending Guard units to Iraq. Washington’s 81st Brigade was recently notified it will be called for a second tour in Iraq next year.

The crowd of about 600 people gathered in the University High School commons area had been asked to stand when they agreed with something a questioner was saying. As Nelson suggested that the Guard would do better for the state and for themselves by staying home to help with disasters, other people in the crowd began to stand.

By the time he had finished his question with the comment that “the war is unwinnable,” more than a third of the audience was standing and many clapping.

She said she couldn’t take the step Nelson suggested, even if she wanted to.

“I’m the commander in chief of the Washington National Guard until it’s federalized,” she said. “I have no authority and no power” once they are called to federal service.

Gregoire stopped short of agreeing with Nelson’s take on the war, saying only “our sympathies are in tune.” But the more important point, she said, is to respect the service of the people who are called up.

Her voice breaking from emotion, Gregoire explained that she and her husband, Mike, a Vietnam War veteran, have tried to attend the funerals for state residents killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each death devastates a community and a family, she said, but families don’t want their sons’ or daughters’ deaths to be thought of as in vain.

Also during the meeting, Gregoire said the state has improved tax exemptions for new businesses and started a health insurance consortium to give small businesses access to health coverage for their employees. But she disagreed with a suggestion by Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite that insurance costs would come down if the state reduced mandates for what the insurance must cover.

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