Back on Campaign Trail, Dino Rossi Reaches Out to the 8th

The Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee Valley was kind to Dino Rossi in the years he spent traveling the state, seeking the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat.

During the campaigns, I was over here so much that everybody thought I was a local,” the Sammamish Republican, 58, joked during a quick sit-down Friday at Bob’s Classic in Wenatchee.

Indeed, Rossi won Chelan County by 64 percent in his 2004 race against Christine Gregoire. The county gave him 62 percent in a 2008 rematch, and another 62 percent in 2010, in his Senate race. 

None of those tallies could overcome Democratic votes in western counties, and Rossi never took statewide or federal office. Now Chelan County is part of the 8th Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Dave Reichert will retire this year, and Rossi believes his following here — as well as Kittitas and western Pierce and King counties, also folded into the district — will serve him well as he aims for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The district’s good for me,” he said. As senator for the state’s 5th District in Olympia, he represented a mix of suburban and rural concerns. The congressional 8th, he said, “is the blown-out version of that.”

So far Rossi is the only declared Republican in the race and the biggest political name, facing a field of at least five Democratic newcomers competing in the primary. He’s also drawn the most in contributions, more than $578,000 as of his last financial disclosure in October. On Friday, he toured Kittitas and Chelan counties, reintroducing himself to local officials and Farm Bureau members who might bolster his local campaign.

Rossi was active in commercial real estate sales before he became a state senator, serving from 1996 to 2003 and eventually chairing the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee. There he helped craft a no-new-tax budget that defeated a $2.7 billion deficit in 2002. He said Friday his record of state legislative accomplishments show he’s the right candidate to deal with budget debates in Congress.

I’ve told the people in D.C.— I said, ‘Look, when I come, I’m not going to wait 10 years for someone to die for me to get a gavel in my hand. I’ve got other things to do.’ But I’m going to equally talk about protecting the vulnerable as I’m talking about being fiscally conservative, because you can do those two things.”

Rossi opposes the Affordable Care Act as passed under President Barack Obama, advocating market solutions for rising healthcare costs and insurance premiums. “But you got to make sure that people with preexisting conditions aren’t falling through the cracks,” he said, “because that would not work.” The massive tax overhaul passed by the Republican-majority Congress was a good step, he believes, returning money to taxpayers and encouraging corporations to offer employee bonuses

Rossi went to the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland as a delegate for Ted Cruz. Under convention rules, his vote ultimately went to Trump, who won the state GOPprimary. While there, he defended Trump against Washington delegates who sought to overturn convention rules and stymie the nomination. He told the Seattle Times that Trump was far from his first choice, but was preferable to allowing Hillary and former President Bill Clinton, “a habitual liar and a sexual predator, back into the White House.”

Bill Clinton settled a sexual assault lawsuit for $850,000, was accused of rape by another woman and was impeached for lying under oath about extramarital affairs. Trump has been accused of sexual assault, harassment or misconduct by 19 women; his first wife accused him of rape in a divorce proceeding; and the Wall Street Journal reported an adult actress who had an extramarital affair with Trump in the mid-2000s was paid $130,000 in the months before the election to keep silent.

Rossi stood by his decision Friday. “Putting Bill Clinton at the other end of the White House, I thought, would be a real problem. … As far as Trump’s concerned, you’re right, I was a Scott Walker, Marco Rubio guy, and I voted for him for really one reason, which was the Supreme Court justice. That was what I was worried about. And he already did that. He made good pick, and I was pretty pleased with that.”

As for dealings with Trump, whom he describes as “a smash-mouth New York developer on steroids,” Rossi believes the hard part of negotiations will be within Congress. “I think most of the negotiation’s going to be internal, because I think he’s probably willing to sign most anything that shows up on his desk. You’ve got to get it on his desk.”

To cope with factionalism in the House, where even the majority Republicans have divided up into herds including the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group, Rossi said he would apply the same tactics he used in Olympia. “I didn’t say much my first year — I just watched everybody, how they worked under stress, and when it hit the fan, how did they operate? Then I’d say, ‘Okay, that’s going to be useful later on.’ And it was.

… I’m going to start just the way I started before, with trying to find people I agree with and figure out how I can help them be successful.”

Since his 2010 Senate loss, Rossi has held office twice more, but only by appointment to fill state Senate vacancies. He did not run last year to retain his most recent seat, in the 45th District, which went to Democrat Manka Dhingra in November. He’s also served on the board of Washington’s Special Olympics, recently finishing a term as chairman.

Rossi said he’s open to public debates with his eventual Democratic rival. “Maybe we’ll do one here in Wenatchee,” he said. “How about that?”


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