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Economic highs, lows frame Gregoire's legacy

By Brad Shannon and Jordan Schrader

(From The Bellingham Herald, Decembe 29th, 2012)

Call her the Great Recession governor.

Gov. Chris Gregoire leaves office in two weeks, and most report cards on her eight-year leadership of the Evergreen State grade her on the deep curve of the economic collapse that dominated her second term and, in many ways, undid some of her earlier work.

Former Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt said that, in his mind, there were actually two Gregoires - one governor for each term, separated by the financial crisis.

“She had her spending term and she had her realization-and-savings term — or reform, whatever you want to call it,’’ Hewitt said, clearly preferring Gregoire’s second term when she showed she could be chilly to tax hikes, willing to freeze new regulations and hold off labor’s demands for pay increases.

Gregoire, a Democrat who took office in January 2005 under the cloud of a legally disputed election result, enjoyed the good times of a growing economy for only a few years — growing the state’s government cost and size until it all came crashing down.

There was simply no way for Washington to escape the colossal downward plunge caused by the financial crisis that struck the nation and the world in 2008.

“I think she looks back and sees some of the things she’s put in place — and she’s held on to some very steadfastly, like early childhood education — but other things she would like to have done or did do, she’s had to undo, because of the financial situation of the state,” said Becky Bogard, a lobbyist whose friendship with Gregoire dates back decades. “And that’s been very hard for her.”

The toll: Tens of thousands of people cut from the rolls of the state’s subsidized health insurance. Three prisons and a juvenile detention center closed. Four-fifths of state parks’ funding from the general fund gone, with parks struggling to make up the difference with fees. Soaring tuition replacing plummeting state funding as the main source of four-year colleges’ budgets. And state government downsized to the staffing levels of the mid- to late 1990s.

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