Gregoire tours Bellevue’s Old Main Street during visit

Gov. Christine Gregoire toured Bellevue’s Old Main Street with Mayor Grant Degginger on Oct. 4, completing a regimen of shop hopping and diner visits common to politicians on the campaign trail.

Gov. Christine Gregoire toured Bellevue’s Old Main Street with Mayor Grant Degginger on Oct. 4, completing a regimen of shop hopping and diner visits common to politicians on the campaign trail.

It was a chance to talk with residents and business owners in an area that’s become a Western Washington safe haven for Republican candidates.

Presidential hopeful John McCain has established a campaign headquarters in the city, as did George W. Bush when he was running for re-election in 2003.

But there were few indications that the governor was in hostile territory during her visit.

“I’m so excited to meet you,” said Fran’s Chocolates manager Soufi Farzanehpour to the governor.

Gregoire and her entourage sampled sweets from Fran’s and purchased a mixture of gray- and smoked-salt caramels covered in chocolate before heading to a packed venue at Gilbert’s Main Street Bagel Deli.

There the governor talked about the demise of Washington’s two NCAA Division I-A college football programs with Bellevue residents Marika Beroukas, a student at the University of Washington, and Ben Fisher, who attends Washington State.

The conversation turned to more political matters at Belle Pastry, where Gregoire spoke with Sammamish High English teacher T.J. Hanify about education and board certification.

Among the more notable figures Gregoire bumped into during her swing through the city was former Seattle Supersonics player and coach Lenny Wilkens, who hugged the governor and wished her luck in her bid for re-election.

Gregoire ended her visit with a stop at La Ree Boutique, where shop owner Rachael Nov discussed her appreciation for the business atmosphere near Old Main Street.

The governor said it’s no surprise that people find the location attractive.

“This is an amazing area,” she told The Reporter. “It makes a large place like Bellevue feel small. People like that intimacy and customer service, so it’s obviously succeeding.”

Degginger noted that the city of Bellevue has made a conscious effort to attract small businesses like those along Old Main Street by exempting them from the first $150,000 of their business and operations taxes.

Gregoire said she has backed up such efforts with actions of her own while in office.

“We’re out there connecting small businesses with capital so they can be successful, and we’ve got small-business centers that are now helping people develop the plans they need to be successful,” she said.

Gregoire spoke with The Reporter about her thoughts on the failed lawsuit that the Bellevue and other school districts filed against the state last year to sue for more basic-education funding.

“It didn’t matter to me what the outcome of the case was,” she said. “We felt there was a need, and we stepped up to address it.”

The governor was referring to a $4.2 billion hike in education funding – including an additional $60 million for special education – that she had proposed in her 2008 budget.

Gregoire also spoke about the $3.4 billion budget deficit that her GOP opponent Dino Rossi has warned voters about.

“Today we are sitting on a surplus,” she said. “With the cuts I’ve put in place already, we will have about $800 million in the bank by the end of June 2009.

“We’re on our way to making sure we can handle whatever bad-case or good-case scenario that may come along.”

Joshua Adams Hicks can be reached at 424-453-4290 or at jhicks@bellevuenews.us.