When then-Yakima Mayor Dave Edler introduced Gov. Chris Gregoire at a downtown event back in 2006, he noted that it was their third meeting in as many weeks.
“I’m thinking about setting up a Governor’s Mansion East,” Edler joked.
Gregoire paid many visits to the Yakima Valley in her first term, determined to show voters she would be governor of the entire state even though she owed her slim victory over Republican Dino Rossi to liberal westside voters.
Though she was less visible here in her second term, Gregoire nevertheless issued major policy recommendations on water storage and agricultural trade and labor, all important issues to the Valley.
Ron Van Gundy, who managed the 72,000-acre Roza Irrigation District for 20 years and has served as a district consultant the last decade, said the Democratic governor paid more attention to water needs than any of her predecessors.
“She has put far more effort into water for Eastern Washington than any governor during my career,” Van Gundy said.
Gregoire has continually called for more water storage to meet the growing state’s needs. She successfully sought creation of the Office of the Columbia River in the state Department of Ecology to seek new water supplies for in-stream and out-of-stream needs. The legislation that created the office also provided $200 million in bond proceeds to finance projects. Gregoire is taking a similar tack with the Yakima Valley as she leaves office.
Her last budget proposal includes $20 million as seed money for work on elements of the ambitious Yakima River Basin integrated plan to expand storage, improve fish passage and habitat, advance water conservation and protect sensitive lands in the watershed.
In 2009 she appointed Sunnyside farmer and state legislator Dan Newhouse as state Agriculture Department director, a move applauded by local growers that established her reputation as a champion of agriculture.
“We were pleased when she appointed Dan Newhouse to be agriculture director. He is someone from the Valley who understands the issues,” said Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association. “She went out of her way to reach out to agriculture and represent the whole state on critical issues.”
Gregoire was less popular with at least one local business leader. Verlynn Best, president and CEO of the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce, felt that Gregoire didn’t do enough to push business-friendly policies in Olympia.
For example, instead of reacting to Boeing’s decision to move some of its assembly work last year to South Carolina, Gregoire should have examined the regulations and policies that likely led to the loss in the first place, Best said.
“We’re doing more to drive (business) out than drive them in,” she said.
But Gregoire won praise from the president of Yakima Valley Community College, which received more than $50 million for new construction and renovations of existing buildings during the governor’s tenure. She had a good working relationship with the late Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, a champion of the college.
“It’s been a sea change for us,” President Linda Kaminski said. “We went from the old Glenn and Anthon halls, where students had to wear gloves to take tests to state-of-the-art labs and facilities.”
That has helped the college prepare students for technology-intensive jobs. Gregoire recognized that the state’s community college system is important to the economy, and protected it from even worse budget cuts, Kaminski said.
A lawyer by training, Gregoire not surprisingly had the political support of Yakima trial lawyers, Blaine Tamaki among them.
“I thought she was very disciplined about staying on track and not raising taxes,” said Tamaki. “It was a very huge, difficult budget problem that she faced — the worst in Washington history.”
“As a Democrat, I think she is very respected by both Republicans and Democrats from what I understand. I think she’s headed for higher office myself. I think she’ll probably get a high administration job in the Obama administration. I don’t know if she’s interested.”
• Reporters David Lester, Mai Hoang, Dan Catchpole and Phil Ferolito contributed to this report.