‘The challenge of our time ‘: Gregoire addresses service groups

The governor's speech was full of praise and admiration for the voluntary service work and fundraising undertaken by those gathered before her.

In April of this year, President Obama signed legislation announcing that Sept. 11 would be forever known as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Citizens all across the country are urged to do a good deed this Friday, to voluntarily engage in remembrance through personal and organized service


The purpose of the day is to help create a positive legacy that honors the victims of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as those that rose to serve in response.

It was this noble pursuit in mind that Washington Governor Christine Gregoire addressed a joint meeting of the Issaquah Rotary and Kiwanis clubs in Issaquah on Tuesday.

The governor’s speech was full of praise and admiration for the voluntary service work and fundraising undertaken by those gathered before her.

She told the audience of about 150 at the Our Savior Lutheran Church that this year was “the most critical year since the Great Depression,” a time when the work of groups such as Kiwanis and Rotary was more important than ever to the functioning and recovery of American communities.

No stranger to Issaquah following her visit to last year’s Salmon Days Festival, Gregoire thanked the groups for “your amazing volunteer work and contribution to the betterment of your community.”

“And the impact is felt not just in this community, but way beyond the boundaries,” she said. “It is an example of what we are trying to promote this week.”

She said the recession had created tremendous challenges.

“We really have to step up to the challenges we have, knowing full well that if it’s going to happen it will be as a result of the community spirit that brings us together,” Gregoire said.

The governor made particular mention of community groups’ support of food banks in the state, which have struggled to respond to 7.1 million visits from needy families in this past year, an increase of more than 1 million visits.

She told the story of a young man, a father, she met while volunteering at a food bank recently.

He said he had, in the past, spent many hours volunteering there too, but was now there seeking help.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be on the receiving side,” he told her.

“We are finding people hurting beyond what we could have anticipated,” Gregoire said. “We, at the government level, are by no means the solution to the problem. Our budget is strapped, and without (the work of service groups) we would not be able to meet the challenges present.”


While her speech was mostly concerned with the grand notion of inspiring citizens to rise to the challenge of our times, there were some hints at the political detail and insight one might hope to hear from a visiting governor.

She briefly touched on the educational benefits of marrying notions of community service to “what is good for our students,” echoing Obama’s pre-election promise of tying higher education funding to participation in volunteer programs.

Referring to the recent Kiwanis and Rotary challenge to provide calculators to local school children, Gregoire said that improving math and science education was the key to “creating the workforce we need in Washington state.”

“We are lagging behind our competitors,” she said. “50 percent of math teachers today do not have a major or minor in math.”

This fact will not have been lost on Issaquah Schools District Superintendent Steve Rasmussen, and newly appointed Washington State Board of Education board member Connie Fletcher, sitting close by.

During the recent staff restructuring required by cuts to the district’s budget, Rasmussen, and all district superintendents in the state, were hamstrung by a union agreement that teachers be laid off based solely on their length of service, irrespective of their skill sets or qualifications.

Responding to a question from the audience about the education reform bill 2261 passed during the 2009 state legislative session, and how the state would fund education reform, Gregoire said “I don’t know.”

“There isn’t anyone in the state that doesn’t support this, but where is the money going to come from?”

She said the federal government’s new Race to the Top program, where states apply for competitive grants for their education systems, had set unreasonably high standards, and said that many of her colleagues suggested Washington shouldn’t bother to apply.

“I believe that we should apply,” she said. “I also believe that not many grants will be awarded in the first round. I don’t know of a state that meets the criteria.”

Gregoire said that much of what she wanted to improve in the education system was not a part of Race to the Top criteria, such as focusing on early childhood, and ensuring faculties were not cut from universities.

“If you want to stop high school dropouts, you need to get these kids prepared in kindergarten and preschool,” she said.

The governors’ rally behind primary education will have raised eyebrows among many who have noted that Washington spends well below the national average per capita on K-12 elementary and secondary education.

In the time of her governorship, it has spent less on these areas, per capita, than about two-thirds of all U.S. states, including the poverty stricken West Virginia, and New Mexico.

Gregoire touched briefly on the newly created “STEM” high school in the Tri-cities, an educational facility specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. She expressed her hope that this new school be used as a demonstration project to encourage similar schools to be opened elsewhere.

The economy

“The good news is that our chief economist, and the other chief economists agree, says that it is almost certain we have hit bottom,” Gregoire said of the current economic recession. “Many describe the recovery cycle as ‘V’, but it’s actually more of a ‘U’. So we will have to sit at the bottom for an unknown period of time.”

She predicted the state economy wouldn’t see noticeable improvement until the first quarter of 2010.

She said she was expecting the recovery would come quicker in Washington than other states, due to the fact that as other countries continued to recover ahead of the U.S., import and export businesses, the number one employer in the state, would be stimulated first.

“But,” she warned, “we have probably not seen the last chartered bank to go down.”

Gregoire said that how long the state remained in the flat bottom of the ‘U’ depended largely on consumers.

“If consumers spend, then we will start going up,” she said. “Otherwise, we will sit on the bottom of the ‘U’ for a while longer.”

With the federal government soon to begin the importance task of creating a new surface transportation bill, to shape the nation’s transportation policy over coming decades, Gregoire touched just briefly on the issue, saying that the state had invested about $4.5 billion in transportation projects over the next two years.

“This will be the largest construction cycle in transportation projects ever,” she said.

Responding to a question from the audience about the future of Boeing in the state, Gregoire said “we’re the home of Boeing, and we’re going to stay the home of Boeing.”

“I have prepared a report which shows that we are the better place to do business,” she said. “Boeing would be better off to build a second 787 in Everett or Moses Lake than in any other state.”

Swine Flu

Gregoire said that she would soon be attending a H1N1 summit of business leaders, and health and school officials, to try and work out a state plan for dealing with the further spread of the virus.

She said that typically, each year, regular flu accounts for 800-1,000 deaths.

“What is different with H1N1 is the demographic,” she said. “It is affecting children, pregnant women, and young people with underlying health problems.”

So far, 160 people in the state have been hospitalized with H1N1, with 12 deaths.

She said there needs to be a coordinated plan to stop the spread, including preventing sick staff from coming to work.

“We expect to have a vaccine by mid-October,” she said, warning that it was likely the state would face “a very serious influx of this virus.”

“America had lost its way”

Gregoire had said earlier that the economic crisis was “an opportunity for us to do the things we never thought we could do.”

Although she did not elaborate on what these things might be, Gregoire did state that partnerships were a key to economic and societal improvement.

“We can stand alone and do one thing, but when you form a partnership, you multiply by not just two, but much more than that,” she said.

Gregoire said her “mission is to step up with much more dramatic reform,” and spoke of her desire to “minimize bureaucracy.”

Gregoire closed her speech with some rousing words.

“I’m not a Pollyanna,” she said. “But we are going to come out of this recession and we are going to come out better.”

Gregoire said that these new, difficult times represented a great opportunity to change, and that in some ways the country was paying for the greed inherent in more prosperous years.

“I feel as though America had lost its way a little,” she said. “Everything was ‘I want it now,’ and ‘it’s all about me.'”

Gregoire spoke of being inspired by the book “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.”

“It is that spirit of determination and helping your neighbor out – that is what will help us come out of this.”

Following Gregoire’s speech, she was presented with numerous gifts from the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, and the organizers of Issaquah Salmon Days, most notably a framed edition of the 2008 Salmon Days print “Leap of Faith” by Melissa S. Cole.

Rotary will also donate 300lbs of food to local food banks, in the governors name, through the Rotary First Harvest program.

In recognition of Gregoire’s mission to invest in early childhood education, the Issaquah Kiwanis Club donated $1,000 to the Issaquah Community Center preschool program, a donation that was accepted with much grace by Mayor of Issaquah Ava Frisinger.