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Rossi's message warmly received

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By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

Dino Rossi made a wrong turn and was late to a Thursday night speaking engagement in Enumclaw. But once he arrived at the Enumclaw Livestock Pavilion, the message he delivered was right on target.

The small audience waiting for the Issaquah Republican was more than willing to hear Rossi's message of holding the line on taxes and making government more efficient.

That was just as expected, as Rossi's appearance was sponsored by the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, an Enumclaw-based group dedicated to electing candidates sympathetic to the rights of private property owners.

Rossi, who served seven years in the state Senate before stepping down to run for governor, touted his work as chairman of the powerful Way and Means Committee to win the hearts of his Enumclaw audience. During the drafting of the last biennial budget, when Rossi held power over the state's purse strings, he approached that duty with two key beliefs. He was adamant there would be no new taxes, he said, while equally determined to "do all we could to protect the most vulnerable" members of Washington's society.

The bottom line, he said, is "you can be fiscally conservative and have a social conscience."

To craft a budget he desired, Rossi said, he reached out to lawmakers throughout the state, hoping to sway conservative and moderate Democrats to his side. "I was in search of a philosophical majorityŠnot a partisan majority," he said.

To shape a state budget that did not depend on new taxes, Rossi said, he mounted a three-pronged attack. First, state employees were told there would be no spending increases; second, existing dollars were required to be used more efficiently; and finally, spending reductions were made in certain areas. For example, a draft budget called for spending $8.4 million for new cars for the state's motor pool fleet, a budget item that was nixed. "You would have thought Western civilization was going to end if we didn't buy those cars," Rossi said, recalling the reaction of those entrenched in state government.

With his Senate background, Rossi was encouraged to run for governor. Before making a decision, though, there were three questions to be answered, he said. After consulting former governors, Rossi determined holding the state's highest office wouldn't be detrimental to his family, which includes a wife and four children. That left two questions: could he win and could he generate the financial resources to mount a viable campaign? Those, too, were answered in the affirmative.

Looking around the country, Rossi said, he saw Republicans being elected governor where Democrats had once held power. In those states, he saw a trend familiar to what he was witnessing in Washington; namely, polls were showing an ever-shrinking confidence in the way the state was being governed.

Armed with that information, Rossi tossed his hat in the ring, determined to be successfu. "I'm not doing this for second place and I'm not doing it for sport," he said.

If elected, Rossi said, "I want to see entrepreneurs be entrepreneurs again." He backed his pro-business message with a story of his own professional growth, which included buying his first apartment building at age 25. His business success, Rossi said, has allowed him to hold elective office.

Once Rossi decided to seek the governor's office, he hopped in his car and embarked on a four-week, 17-city "announcement tour." He has made numerous trips to eastern Washington, he noted, pointing out that statewide candidates sometimes confine their vision to the Seattle area. If elected, he said, "I plan on being governor of the entire state of Washington."

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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