OLYMPIA – Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi on Thursday distanced himself from the dozens of Eastern Washington billboards that have cropped up to urge voters “Don’t Let Seattle Steal This Election!”
“Steal” is underlined.
“We had nothing to do with creating them, and we don’t agree with their message,” said Rossi spokeswoman Jill Strait. “We do not believe that Seattle – or anyone else – will steal this election and are confident there will be a fair playing field.”
The 61 billboards, which feature Rossi’s name in large letters, were put up by the Building Industry Association of Washington. The group says the signs are in Spokane, Yakima, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and Ellensburg. One sign is at Cedar Street and Third Avenue, overlooking the parking lot of the Arctic Circle hamburger restaurant.
State Sens. Lisa Brown and Chris Marr, both Democrats from Spokane, called Thursday for the billboards to come down.
“We may not agree with Mr. Rossi on every issue, but we hope we can at least agree that it is wrong to dredge up the division of our past in an election about our future,” they said in a letter.
The conservative BIAW has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars this year trying to oust Gov. Chris Gregoire. For weeks it’s been running statewide radio ads critical of Gregoire, some of them tailored to Eastern Washington voters. But the billboards are so far the most striking example of Rossi’s political allies trying to tap into lingering regional tensions over Rossi’s narrow loss to Gregoire four years ago.
In an interview Thursday, Gregoire called the billboards divisive in a state that should be working together.
“I have worked as hard as I could to create one Washington,” she said. She cited her efforts to free up more water for farmers, boost alternative power and help local economic development groups, among other things.
Gregoire, who lost in every county in Eastern Washington four years ago, maintains that the state is moving past the idea of an ideological and cultural divide at the crest of the Cascades.
“I just think that’s a day gone by and never to be returned. I guess I’d have to say shame on him (Rossi) for trying to divide this state up. That’s just wrong.”
In 2004, Rossi won the initial ballot tally, although days of additional counts by King County kept shrinking the margin of victory. He then won an automated recount. But after an exhaustive hand recount of millions of ballots and an ensuing monthslong court battle over allegations of illegal voting, a Chelan County judge affirmed Gregoire as the winner by 133 votes.
Rossi has repeatedly referred to the controversy in stump speeches, saying pointedly that he’ll win “again.”
The bitter dispute over every ballot triggered several changes in election laws and procedures. The state’s top election official is Secretary of State Sam Reed, who, like Rossi, is a Republican.
“He (Rossi) had his day in court, and he couldn’t prove anything,” said Gregoire, who was attorney general before becoming governor. “His theory was that felons voted. Well, if they did, they didn’t vote for the woman attorney general.”
The billboards are an attempt to anger voters, she said, when the state needs unity and hope.
“I’m there to solve your problem whether you’re in Eastern Washington or the southwest or central Puget Sound,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you live. We are Washingtonians.”
BIAW spokeswoman Erin Shannon defended the billboards’ message.
“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.”
Despite the 2005 court ruling, Shannon said, “we’ve always maintained that that election was questionable.”
As for the “Cascade curtain” being an outdated myth, she said, Gregoire is “the one who’s outdated if she believes that, if she believes the people in Eastern Washington feel she represents them.”
Shannon pointed to the governor’s reportedly tepid attitude toward a large uranium-processing plant proposed for the Tri-Cities. The plant, which will employ 400, will be built in Idaho instead.
Seattle-bashing in Eastern Washington backfired two years ago for U.S. Senate candidate Mike McGavick, a Republican.
During a campaign announcement in Spokane, McGavick noted he was from Seattle, adding: “I like to say I was born in Seattle when you weren’t embarrassed to say you were from Seattle.”
The line went over well with the Republicans in the Davenport Hotel ballroom for his campaign kickoff. But it didn’t play well when printed in Seattle news media. McGavick had to explain to Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat that he personally wasn’t embarrassed by being from Seattle – he just knew some people who were.