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Sunday, April 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:25 A.M.

Teachers union throws its support to Gregoire

By J. Patrick Coolican
Seattle Times staff reporter

Christine Gregoire
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SEATAC — Democrat Christine Gregoire's gubernatorial campaign got a lift yesterday as the state's biggest teachers union endorsed her, while party rival Phil Talmadge said he may drop out of the race.

The Washington Education Association's political-action committee chose the state attorney general on the third ballot with 62.2 percent, or 4,680 votes, over former Supreme Court Justice Talmadge with 37.8 percent, or 2,847 votes. King County Executive Ron Sims, also a Democrat, was knocked out with 29 percent on an earlier ballot.

"I will have to give this some thought over the next few days, about whether it makes sense to keep going on," Talmadge told The Associated Press. "We worked really hard for this, and they went with a candidate who said what they wanted to hear and changed some of her previous positions."

Gregoire adds the WEA, which has 76,000 members, to a list of endorsements that includes the Machinists union representing Boeing workers, the Washington Federation of State Employees and the Service Employees International Union. The four unions represent 220,000 workers.

The Teamsters have endorsed Sims.

WEA President Charles Hasse said the endorsement would translate into substantial help for Gregoire. "This isn't a recommendation in name only," he said.

Gregoire adds the endorsements to a large cash advantage. She has raised $1.45 million compared to $759,000 for Sims and $220,000 for Talmadge, according to reports filed with the state.

A recent Elway Research poll showed Gregoire with 26 percent support; former state Sen. Dino Rossi, a Republican, with 25 percent; and Democrats Sims and Talmadge at 9 and 3 percent; respectively.

During a two-hour forum at a SeaTac hotel, the candidates pleaded — almost desperately — for the teachers' support.

Sims recalled visiting a classroom in Africa and wanting to bring the passion of the students there back here.

Talmadge invoked his family of educators — his father a union leader during a Seattle teachers strike in the 1970s, his wife a Seattle educator.
 
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Gregoire said she'd bring the same passion to education that she did to reaching a settlement in the lawsuit against the tobacco companies. She considers the settlement one of her main accomplishments.

In substance, however, the candidates showed fairly minor differences.

They all said they would seek more money for education, and specifically money to restore teachers' cost-of-living raises that were approved by voters but suspended by the Legislature last year. The three candidates all oppose charter schools and the federal No Child Left Behind Act as it's currently written.

Talmadge and Sims were more explicit in their support for higher taxes to support education — with Sims making a state income tax a centerpiece of his campaign. They also back a League of Education Voters' proposal to raise the sales tax 1 cent to fund education.

Gregoire said she wouldn't rule out new taxes, but she hasn't offered specifics.

Her most convincing argument may have been a subtle reminder of a general-election campaign against Rossi, who declined an invitation to attend the forum, according to Rich Wood, WEA spokesman.

"This election is about November," Gregoire said.

The delegates overwhelmingly endorsed Democrat Deborah Senn and Republican Michael Vaska in the primary for attorney general.

The union offered no recommendation in the nonpartisan race between incumbent Terry Bergeson and Juanita Doyon for superintendent of public instruction, even though Bergeson once served as president of the union.

J. Patrick Coolican: 206-464-3315 or jcoolican@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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