By David Groves
OLYMPIA — As Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire enters the home stretch of her two terms leading the State of Washington, she is suffering some of the lowest job approval ratings of her entire tenure. And it’s not simply attributable, as Gregoire might suggest, to the tough economy and painful budget cuts.
All governors have been making politically difficult decisions about state service cuts and tax increases. But Gregoire has some of the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the country, lower even than Wisconsin’s embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Of the 31 governors who have had their approval ratings publicly polled since April, Gov. Gregoire has the second highest disapproval rating (55%) of any of her peers in either party, second only to Republican Gov. Paul LePage (56%) of Maine, the guy who removed the mural dedicated to his state’s workers because he thought it looked too “Communist.”
The average of all polls compiled since April 1 by The New York Times (see chart at right from this NYT posting), finds that Gregoire has the highest negative “spread” — at minus-17 points — of any Democratic governor in the nation at 38% approval to 55% disapproval. The latest Survey USA poll conducted in mid-April — shortly after massive mid-session labor protests at the Capitol — listed the spread at 37%-61%. The latest Elway Poll in July, under the headline “Gregoire’s positive job ratings continue to slide,” found Gregoire’s net approval rating to be minus-22 (36%-58%).
Polls suggest it’s not just because independents are unhappy with Gregoire — 69% of them say they are — it’s also because many Democrats are dissatisfied. And Republicans are really dissatisfied. The Survey USA poll reports that 41% of people who self-identify as Democrats and 83% of Republicans disapprove of the job Gregoire is doing.
Compare that to Democratic Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber — in the middle of this chart’s pack — who has just 28% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans unhappy with him. As one would expect of a typical approval poll, Kitzhaber’s split reflects partisan balance with Republicans disapproving (34%-61%) and Democrats approving (67%-28%), so unless independents veer wildly against him, it balances out and in a Democratic-leaning state like Oregon, he scores an overall positive rating.
But not in Washington. The 57%-41% Gregoire approval spread among Democrats, isn’t nearly enough to make up for the 17%-82% disapproval spread among Republicans and 28%-69% among independents. Even the raging Lefties in the Seattle metropolitan area — a region that usually carries Democrats to victory in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor since Jimmy Carter was president — are dissatisfied with the governor’s performance, 43%-55%.
Gregoire has unmistakably shifted rightward politically in both her words and actions. In a 2011 legislative session dominated by a challenging budget and business-backed workers’ compensation reform, Gregoire defied calls from her Democratic base to close tax loopholes and oppose lump-sum buyouts of injured workers. The commercial media lauded this shift as a fresh “bipartisan” approach that took guts. But the polls suggest Gregoire’s political shift alienated some Democrats while failing to impress either Republicans or independents.
In December 2010, Gregoire announced her all-cuts 2011-13 operating budget proposal that slashed $5 billion by proclaiming, “I hate my budget.” Similarly, in previous years of massive budget cuts, she lamented the “unjust” proposals that didn’t adhere to her Democratic values.
But by the time she gave her State of the State address in January 2011, she shifted her rhetoric even further to the right. She urged lawmakers to “be bold” with their cuts and “transform government,” prompting surprised Republicans to joke that they could have written and delivered that speech themselves.
By the end-of-session press conference, Gregoire was practically boastful of the “progress” made to transform government through the all-cuts budget that slashed $5 billion in public services and state employee compensation:
We balanced the budget with no new revenue, we tackled the long-term costs and we put the state on a new financial trajectory that not only helps us get through this crisis, but more importantly lays the foundation for a more sustainable future. We did not opt for short-term fixes or budget gimmicks. We didn’t pass spending along. We reined it in. … We changed the assumptions about what government does and how it does it.
It’s not hard to imagine a Republican governor saying the same thing.
The governor’s office was contacted but declined to comment on Gregoire’s approval ratings.
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