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Campaign ad declared “racist” by Wash. governor

By Curt Woodward
Olympia, Washington (AP) 8-08

Gov. Chris Gregoire is blistering critics of her tribal gambling negotiations, saying there’s a current of racism in the lingering controversy over state gambling covenants and tribal campaign spending.

It’s the Democratic incumbent’s strongest reaction yet to insinuations that she gave preferential treatment to Native American tribes who later donated large sums to the state Democratic Party.

Gregoire’s comments were aired during August in a video of her recent interview with Seattle alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger. In it, Gregoire responds to a question about the tribal gambling controversy – the question itself was edited from the video package – by denouncing her critics, including a negative political advertisement on the topic.

“They made stuff up about the tribes – and the ad, by the way, I think is racist,” Gregoire said. “I think this whole thing is racist, and I’m totally offended by it.

“But it just shows you how low they’ll go. It shows you that it doesn’t matter what the truth is, they’re going to trump stuff up. So I’m not afraid of making decisions independently and standing by them.” 


Gregoire did not specifically name the critics she denounces, but legislative Republicans and backers of her GOP opponent, Dino Rossi, have been pressing the issue in public for weeks.

The political ad she mentions was paid for by It’s Time for a Change, a political action committee controlled by the strongly pro-Rossi Building Industry Association of Washington.

Building Industry Association of Washington spokeswoman Erin Shannon rejected Gregoire’s charge of racism, saying the governor’s statement was a sign of desperation in her tough re-election battle with Rossi.

The ad features an old woman playing a slot machine under a sign that reads “Gambling Giveaway.”

It also repeats snippets of news coverage, particularly a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story that detailed Gregoire’s negotiations with the Spokane Tribe, other tribes’ subsequent contributions to state Democrats, and the party’s donations to Gregoire’s campaign.

Shannon pointed to a separate campaign ad produced by the state Democrats, which was a much clearer play on negative ethnic stereotypes.

That ad attacked the BIAW support of Rossi, who is of Italian descent, while the theme song for HBO’s mafia drama “The Sopranos” plays in the background.

“That was obviously far more offensive than anything we’ve put out there,” Shannon said. “I’m certain that our ads didn’t have a bunch of Indians wearing feathered headdresses, dancing around with tomahawks ... that would have been racist.”

Democrats were forced to change the music in that ad after an Italian-American group complained. Gregoire’s campaign was initially reluctant to comment on that ad, and the governor later said she was offended by it. But she didn’t denounce the “Sopranos” ad in terms similar to her attack of the BIAW’s gambling spot.

Gregoire and Democrats also have strongly rejected criticism of her role in the Spokane Tribe’s 2005 compact negotiations.

That gambling contract, which brought the tribe under a state agreement for the first time after years of operating in legal limbo, allowed expanded use of video slot machines – but fewer machines than the Spokanes originally wanted. The final agreement also left out a previous proposal that would have, for the first time, given the state a share of gambling profits.

If the original compact had been approved, other tribes would be entitled to similar levels of expansion under the same terms.

Critics, including top legislative Republicans, have complained that the agreement allowed too great an expansion of gambling while ignoring a potentially lucrative source of money for the state. They also suggest improper pledges of political support were part of the negotiations.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, has defended Gregoire’s negotiations, saying he believes the law was followed to the letter.