Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the regional assembly of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The bishop, Robert Hofstad, pulled off something extraordinary: Gov. Chris Gregoire accepted his invitation to be the keynote speaker. Instead of delivering a straight speech, she and the bishop sat in easy chairs on the stage and discussed the theme of the assembly, "Sunday's Faith in Monday's Action."
It became a very frank and insightful discussion of how one maintains and implements high moral standards in challenging conditions.
As a reporter, I've had some conversations like this over the years with elected officials holding high office, but never a governor. The officials are usually guarded and not as candid as Gregoire was that day. A reporter from The Columbian newspaper wrote an article which I hoped, in vain, would appear in the Associated Press so that I could print it in The Eagle, but that didn't happen, and so, here are some remarks which I noted.
Gregoire views elected office as public service. She said she developed that early in her career. She earned a teaching degree in college but found no teaching jobs after graduating. She began working in a probation office and found satisfaction in helping parolees reintegrate into society. She earned a law degree to be qualified to address greater needs, she said.
"Experience has made me go behind the programs and see people who are impacted," she said.
She decided to seek public office and became the state's attorney general. Her philosophy, she said, was that in public life an elected official is a servant first and a leader second.
"You come to public service with the understanding you're there to help people be successful," she said.
At one point, she was asked what the toughest challenges have been for her as governor or attorney general.
First, she responded, she has presided over two death penalty cases. In one, she was able to have the sentence changed from execution to three consecutive life sentences without parole. In the second, all parties, including the convict, pushed for execution, and she allowed that to proceed.
"The only thing between his life and death was me," she said. "You can't imagine my prayers and my tears. I will leave office worrying about this for the rest of my life."
Her second conflict was the evolution of her stand on same gender marriage. Her church opposes it, but as a lawyer, she said, she came to realize it was a matter of respect and equality.
"The state doesn't marry anybody; it gives a license out, and the state can't be engaged in discrimination in the exercise of that license," she said. "The bill was written in such a way to respect the position of all churches in the state of Washington with no retribution, to marry who ever they want.
"It has been a journey for me," she said. "Let me just tell you: The day I made that decision and went public with it, do you have any idea of the weight I felt lifted off my shoulders, because I had, in my opinion, stayed true to my faith (Gregoire is Roman Catholic--ed.), which was to respect everybody, to believe in equality, to carry it out while at the same time, as governor, to respect the separation of church and state, and the state should not be telling churches what they can and cannot do."
As you can see, it was quite a conversation. The important thing, she said, is to serve.