January 8, 2009 in Washington Voices

Missing Gregoire kept press guessing

Richard Roesler Staff writer
 

OLYMPIA – This will sound self-serving, but it’s true: For politicians in particular, “no comment” sometimes backfires.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office discovered that this week, with its official silence inadvertently fueling a flurry of speculation that overshadowed any real news from Gregoire.

First, she abruptly canceled a long-planned meeting with capitol reporters. They asked where she was.

We can’t say, her staff said. But there would be an announcement the next day.

So the Associated Press ran a short blurb, saying the governor was out of state but that her whereabouts were a secret.

Seattle’s alternative weekly, The Stranger, quickly posted an online transcript of a mysterious conversation between writer Eli Sanders and a woman at the governor’s press office:

Q. Where is she?

A. “She’s out of state.”

Q. Is she in the country?

A. “I’m not allowed to say.”

Q. Is she going to continue as Governor of Washington State?

A. “I’m not allowed to say.”

Not allowed to say if she’ll still be governor? Really?

So the klaxons sounded in reporters’ offices, and a political version of Where’s Waldo began. Gregoire associates’ phones and Blackberries started ringing. And in the absence of answers, a flurry of theories and speculation rapidly mushroomed on political Web sites.

“Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire is missing,” announced radioactivecommunist zombies.com.

Was the governor sick? In line for a job with the Obama administration? Maybe secretary of commerce, now that Bill Richardson was bowing out?

Or maybe she was finalizing a big cash infusion from the feds? Maybe something involving Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct? And what would the big announcement be?

In a coup Monday night, the Bellingham Herald’s Jared Paben managed to find a guy who said he was a passenger on a flight with Gregoire to D.C., but that the governor didn’t happen to mention what she was doing there.

And on it went. CNN and Fox News joined the chase. Trying to flush out the missing governor, The Stranger made up some possible things Gregoire might be doing and ran a reader poll. (Top result: “Brokering truce in Seattle hiphop wars.”)

And talk turned almost immediately to the prospect of a Gov. Brad Owen. The Stranger promptly declared Owen, a conservative rural Democrat, “less qualified to be lieutenant governor than an empty bag of chips…(or) a one-eyed dog.”

And still it went on, until Tuesday morning, when all was revealed.

Gregoire was greeting and dining with troops in Baghdad.

Oh. Really?

And we posted the news, along with some photos, and talked with Gregoire on a conference call from the Green Zone. But still, there was an element of “is that all?” to the coverage.

The speculation had upstaged reality.

Got a KB Toys gift card? Spend it. Today.

The state attorney general’s office is warning anyone who got a gift card for KB Toys to use it immediately. The chain’s lawyer has told the AG’s office that the company is closing its stores and won’t accept the cards or store credit after Sunday.

Here’s the bad news: the gift cards can’t be used at KBToys. com, the chain’s online arm, which is a separate business. And the chain only has three stores in Washington: North Bend, Centralia and Vancouver. The only one in Idaho is in Boise.

Under Washington’s gift card law, gift certificates and gift cards sold by retailers usually never expire and cannot include fees that quickly eat away the value of unused cards. (This protection doesn’t cover Visa and MasterCard gift cards.) When a company files for bankruptcy, however, it’s up to a judge to decide which of a corporation’s financial obligations are honored.

Third lawsuit filed by union members unhappy with Gregoire budget

A new lawsuit was filed Tuesday by child care providers, asking a court to force the governor to ask lawmakers for more money for the workers.

It’s the third such suit involving a proposed union contract. After negotiating agreements covering thousands of state-paid workers last summer and fall, Gregoire’s budget director said last month that the deals were not feasible in the face of the state’s budget shortfall. Gregoire didn’t include the proposals including millions of dollars in cost-of-living increases, more training, and additional benefits in the budget she proposed to lawmakers Dec. 18.

Service Employees International Union Local 925 filed the suit Tuesday with the superior court in Olympia.

A second local of the same union, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, has filed a similar suit. At stake are raises of 22 cents to 25 cents an hour over the next two years for 23,000 home care workers. The health aides, who earn less than $11 an hour, are paid by the state to help senior citizens and the disabled.

The home care workers’ contract included nearly $27 million in raises, health benefits and training, none of which Gregoire included in her budget suggestion.

Gregoire says the workers deserve the raise, but that the state wrestling with an unprecedented $6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years can’t afford it.

Also suing Gregoire over raises and contracts is the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents about 40,000 workers.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at richr@spokesman.com.


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