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Rossi loses bid for governor; Morris and McCoy re-elected to the House

ANACORTES, Wash. – Dino Rossi, a former Republican state senator who is Tlingit, lost his second bid to become the first American Indian/Alaska Native governor in U.S. history Nov. 4.

Gov. Christine Gregoire, Democrat, received 1.4 million votes to Rossi’s 1.2 million. Gregoire won in the more populous counties west of the Cascades; Rossi won in the historically conservative rural counties.

Meanwhile, two of four Native state representatives – Jeff Morris and John McCoy – were re-elected by overwhelming margins.

Rossi’s loss is significant in that his defeat was welcomed by Indian country here. A group calling itself “Swift Canoe Indians for Truth” produced commercials aired on YouTube that portrayed Rossi as a “fair-weather Indian” who didn’t publicly proclaim his Tlingit ancestry until this election and who didn’t share the values of Washington’s Native voters.

Rossi’s Tlingit ancestry has been mentioned in official biographies, but he talked more openly about it in this campaign than in 2004, when he lost by 133 votes. Swift Canoe Indians accused Rossi of pandering in this election, saying he needed the Native vote to win.

The YouTube commercials included clips of TV interviews in which Rossi characterized contributions from tribal governments to Gregoire’s campaign as “money laundering.” He also said he opposed tribal gaming.

“She negotiated the biggest expansion of gambling in Washington state history and out of 22 state and tribal compacts, our state gets nothing,” Rossi said in one interview. “And now they’ve laundered a couple hundred thousand dollars through the state Democratic Party and her campaign.”

The campaign contributions from tribal governments were legal, although politically they may have been poorly timed. And Gregoire opposed revenue sharing in state-tribal gaming compacts because she feared the Legislature would be tempted to expand gaming in tough economic times to balance the state budget.

A study by the state Senate Ways and Means Committee earlier this year projected a $2.5 billion budget deficit by 2013. Rossi tried to use that as proof that the state overspent during Gregoire’s watch.

Rossi said he could make traffic improvements in nine areas of the state without more taxes, would provide incentives to purchase environmentally friendly hybrid and electric vehicles, and would replace the controversial Washington Assessment of Student Learning with a standardized test modeled after successful exams from other states.

But despite a troubled national economy, the state has a budget surplus of $850 million, a so-called rainy day fund of $728 million, and a jobless rate of 5.8 percent in September. Voters saw no compelling reason to change leadership at the helm.

Not that a financial storm isn’t looming. The Senate Ways and Means Committee predicts a budget shortfall of $2.7 billion by the middle of 2011. In the upcoming session, legislators are expected to grapple with funding for education and replacing an aging state ferry fleet.

And on Dec. 1, the Puget Sound Partnership, which was initiated by Gregoire, will present its plan for the restoration of the health of the Puget Sound by 2020. Among the recommendations: acquire priority salmon habitat, maintain local oil-spill response programs, reduce sources of water pollution, manage urban stormwater runoff, implement low-impact development standards for new construction, and limit alterations on sensitive shorelines. That plan is expected to have some costs that will be shared by state, tribal and local governments.

Morris, D-Anacortes, will be in leadership when the Legislature deals with these and other issues. Morris, who is Tsimshian with Samish ties, received 41,959 votes to Green Party candidate Howard Pellett’s 12,796 to win a seventh term representing the 40th District.

Morris is the speaker pro tem and serves on the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Audit Review; the Rules Committee; and the Technology, Energy and Communications Committee. He is chairman of the Council of State Governments, West.

McCoy, a Democrat, defeated Republican Cris Larson 22,986 to 16,738 to win a fourth term representing the 38th District. McCoy, Tulalip, is chairman of the Technology, Energy and Communications Committee; and a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the Human Services Committee. His legislative priorities have been education, family-wage jobs and health care.

Departures in the state Legislature:

In Spokane’s 10th District, Rep. Don Barlow, Ottawa, lost a bid for a second term. Barlow, a Democrat, received 32,090 to Republican Kevin Parker’s 35,991.

Barlow was president of the Spokane School Board when he was elected to the House in 2005 and was devoted to strengthening standardized testing in schools, making class sizes smaller, increasing teachers’ salaries, refocusing graduation requirements on science and math, improving early childhood education, building career planning services in high schools, fully funding state mandates, and fully supporting special-education programs.

He was vice chairman of the House Education Committee, and a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and the Health Care and Wellness Committee.

In the 17th District, Rep. Jim Dunn, Inuit, was defeated in the primary and will be succeeded by Democrat Tim Probst, CEO of the Washington Workforce Association.

Dunn, a Republican from the Vancouver area, lost in the primary after a tumultuous career. He served as a state representative from 1996-2002, then returned in 2004 and 2006 with the priorities of creating and preserving family-wage jobs, limiting taxes, ensuring public education is preparing students for the future, and increasing the availability of affordable housing.

But Dunn was stripped of his committee assignments late last year after he made a sexually suggestive remark to a female legislative staffer in a bar. This year, his legislative activity was limited to voting on 22 bills.

Coming up: In the 47th District, state Sen. Claudia Kauffman, Nez Perce, is midway in her first term and is up for re-election in two years. The Democrat from Kent is vice chairwoman of the Consumer Protection and Housing Committee. She is also a member of the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee; the Economic Development Trade and Management Committee; and the Transportation Committee.

People to watch in Washington state: Bob Kelly, Nooksack, was elected to the Whatcom County Council in 2007. He has served as Nooksack’s natural resources director and treasurer of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Steve Oliver, Lummi, was elected Whatcom County treasurer in 2007. He was previously mayor pro tem of Ferndale and chief deputy county treasurer.

- Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at rmwalker@rockisland.com.

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