Governor lauds community service efforts at Issaquah stop

September 15, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Gov. Chris Gregoire addresses the Sept. 8 annual joint luncheon meeting of the Issaquah Rotary Club and the Kiwanis Club of Issaquah. By Greg Farrar

Gov. Chris Gregoire addresses the Sept. 8 annual joint luncheon meeting of the Issaquah Rotary Club and the Kiwanis Club of Issaquah. By Greg Farrar

In Issaquah last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire said service groups and volunteers would be crucial as Washington state and the nation recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

During a lunchtime address Sept. 8 to a pair of Issaquah community groups, the governor praised service efforts by the local Kiwanis and Rotary clubs to provide food for the hungry and school supplies to needy children. Gregoire lauded the groups when she touched on a central theme of her speech: partnerships between community groups, nonprofits and government.

“We can stand alone and do one thing, but when we partner, we multiply not by two, but by much more than that,” she said.

The governor pointed to groups working to connect farmers with food banks to ensure surplus crops are used.

“Whatever it may be, it’s that kind of partnership that makes this state the state it is and allows us to be able to recover,” Gregoire continued.During her speech to about 120 members of the groups, Gregoire recalled her visit to Rotary First Harvest, a Seattle program to feed the hungry. She recounted meeting a man who said he had never imagined lining up at a food bank for a meal.

“Far too many of the people across the state have found themselves in the same position as this man and his children found themselves that day,” Gregoire said.

The governor also praised state lawmakers for taking steps to protect people left vulnerable by the economic downturn, but she centered her remarks on the work done by volunteer groups.

“We at the government level, however, are by no means the solution to the problem,” Gregoire said.

Her speech at Our Savior Lutheran Church came at the beginning of a week of community service events that ended with the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, now a national day of service and remembrance.

Despite the dismal state of the economy, Gregoire pointed to hopeful signs and said Washington is better prepared than other states to rebound.

The governor, a second-term Democrat, described a recent meeting with her economic advisers and offered some good news to the Issaquah crowd: She said the recession had probably reached the bottom. However, the recovery, she said, would not move in a V shape, but would rather progress on a U-shaped curve. In other words, the economy could remain at the bottom for some time before the recovery begins.

“It’s going to be a tough recovery, and it’s still quite fragile,” Gregoire said. “And the fragility is related to consumers.

“If consumers will begin to spend, then we will flatten out and we will see the recovery. If they continue, as they have over the last several months, despite the wherewithal to spend, not to do so, then we’re going to have a prolonged, sitting on the flat bottom of that U before we can see any real recovery.”

Gregoire listed other signs of economic recovery, such as looser lending restrictions and a recent uptick in home sales. She said federal stimulus dollars had helped the state economy.

“We’re doing everything we can at the state level to ensure those dollars get out the door, and get out the door in a responsible and in a timely way,” she said.

She also outlined efforts to consolidate and streamline the state bureaucracy as officials work to staunch spending. Revenue continues to drop, forcing lawmakers to take austere steps to rein in the state budget.

“When I first put my budget out, legislators were very critical of it,” Gregoire said. “I told them, ‘You hate my budget, guess what? When you’re done, we’ll both hate yours, too.’ And we did.

“But the fact of the matter is, we’re not in a position like California — we handled it,” she continued.

In her wide-ranging, 25-minute speech, Gregoire talked about how lawmakers cut the number of state boards and commissions as a money-saving measure. She told attendees to expect further cuts to bureaucracy when the Legislature returns to Olympia.

“We have to continue to reform, maximize the use of every dollar and minimize what we have by way of bureaucracy,” she said.

Another way to ready the state for economic recovery, she said, is to improve the quality of education.

She emphasized the importance of math and science education to prepare Washington students to compete in a global marketplace. She said about 50 percent of the math teachers in Washington did not major or minor in math as college students. Gregoire lauded the teachers who volunteers for the positions, and said the state needs to do more to ready them to teach math.

The governor referenced her own undergraduate career; she graduated with a teaching certificate from the University of Washington.

“I am, by training, I was to be a teacher — couldn’t find a job,” Gregoire said. “I am not by any stretch of the imagination prepared to teach a math class. We’re asking a lot of these people.”

The governor said boosting math and science education is essential to future economic security.

“If we want to be ready to come out of this recession and hit the ground running, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the best-skilled workforce in America,” she said. “We’ve got to be able to compete internationally. We’ve got to create the entrepreneur atmosphere in the state to have creative, innovative companies who are willing to hire these workers.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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