July 1st, 2013 | Andrea Damewood News | Posted In: Activism, Politics, PDX Votes, Transportation

CRC Foe Says Gregoire's Retirement Doomed Project

crcparody

The governors of Oregon and Washington say the Columbia River Crossing is dead.

The Washington senate rejected a transportation bill Saturday that contained the state's $450 million share of the $3.5 billion CRC. The outcome, thanks to the staunch opposition of the Republican majority state Senate, was largely seen as inevitable.

But, Republicans aside, there are signs that Gov. Jay Inslee may have not had his whole political heart in the embattled project to start with.

The project suffered a major loss when Gov. Chris Gregoire turned over the keys to her Olympia office to Inslee in January. Gregoire had massive political capital, and she tied much of it into the Interstate 5 bridge, highway and light rail project between Vancouver and Portland.

Washington Sen. Ann Rivers (R-LaCenter), says the "the wrangling that went on surrounding this project was astounding." She says Inslee tried to meet with other reticent lawmakers over the CRC, but he never tried to call her.

"If it had been Gregoire, she would have found a way to get it done," Rivers says. "He [Inslee] never once had a sit down meeting with me about it."

Inslee was supportive of the CRC in speeches even before he official entered the governor's race, but his campaign for the project lacked the fervor Gregoire brought.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith says that the governor met with Rivers and a couple other senators. Smith says when Inslee met with her he offered language that said if they couldn’t reach a mitigation agreement with the three upriver companies we’d halt the project. She says Rivers refused that offer.

"I'm not really sure how Ann Rivers and her Republican colleagues—who were the party of no on this—can lay the blame at the feet of the governor," Smith says.

Smith also noted Inslee invited U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to lobby the Republicans.

Update 7:50 pm: House Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver), a huge supporter of the project, also says Gregoire's absence was felt.

"Gregoire had the background for it. I think Jay kind of got into the game late," Moeller says. "He had to get up to speed really fast, find a new transportation director and the whole transportation package thing was coming forth. I would say Gregoire knew more about the project, had more history with the project, had more engagement with the project. That really helps."

Moeller says Gregoire was also more intimidating to lawmakers. "She pulls people into her office and says you aren’t leaving until you have an agreement. Even if i have to lock you in."

Smith however, says that Gregoire never included funding for the CRC in her transportation budgets, and Inslee did.

"Gregoire gave up on the project. Gave up," she writes in an email. "Gov Inslee took a strong stand from day one, pushing for a transpo package this year so we could get fed funding... visited Vancouver on several occasions to talk with business leaders about the project and championed it over and over again in the press. Yet you think he lacks fervor?"

(Back to original post): Perhaps most telling was that Inslee picked Lynn Peterson as Washington's Secretary of Transportation. Peterson, a former Clackamas County commissioner, had spent the previous two years working for Gov. John Kitzhaber as his top adviser on transportation and sustainability.

As a Clackamas County commissioner, Peterson had been vocal about her dislike for the megaproject. And the same day Kitzhaber named her to his office in 2011, the governor also announced that Patricia McCaig would run point on the CRC. 

Smith says Peterson has "been very very supportive of the governor and helping him in any way she could" on the CRC.

McCaig's work, profiled in a February 2013 WW cover story, was critical to its passage in Oregon's legislature earlier this year.

But Rivers says Inslee's office did not have a lobbyist whose job was similar to McCaig's.

"I don’t think [Inslee] made any truly meaningful attempt to get it done," Rivers says.

 
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