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Rossi rallies Bainbridge Republicans

It can feel lonely sometimes, being a Republican on Bainbridge island.

But GOP faithful found plenty of friendly faces at Wing Point Golf and Country Club Thursday when 120 islanders turned out to meet gubernatorial contender Dino Rossi.

For island Republicans it was a chance to learn about regional candidates and discuss issues as the 2008 campaign season gets under way.

A number of Republican candidates for county and state positions were also on hand, including Mark Lowe of Bainbridge, who will face Rep. Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge, and Connie Lord of Poulsbo, running against Bainbridge Sen. Phil Rockefeller.

Candidates and voters alike seemed enlivened by what one attendee referred to as the “Dino draw.”

“I think he (Rossi) genuinely creates an air of excitement,” said Bernie Scheffler, president of Bainbridge Island Republican Women, which hosted the luncheon. “I think he has sparked something with a lot of people.”

Rossi, a former state senator, told islanders that his narrow loss to Christine Gregoire in 2004 has brought fresh resolve to his campaign to unseat the incumbent.

He said he had already received more contributions for the current campaign then he did in his entire first campaign. Supporters were more energized in general for his second effort Rossi said.

“I didn’t know how much voltage was behind that switch until I flipped it,” he said. “This is different folks, this is very, very different.”

Outlining his strategy for winning the governorship, Rossi focused on keeping taxes low, streamlining the state budget, cracking down on crime and promoting entrepreneurship. First the government needs to adopt a philosophy of service to taxpayers, he said.

“At the end of the day you have to ask yourself whether your being treated like a customer or a nuisance,” he said.

The state transportation system was a clear example of the state not serving users, he said.

“How’s that ferry system working for you?” he said. “You’re not really being treated like a customer.”

Rossi was critical of the state Department of Transportation for making David Moseley, who does not have a maritime background, the head of Washington State Ferries, and joked about Moseley’s master’s degree in divinity.

“Maybe with prayer, we’re keeping it all afloat,” he said.

Rossi criticized the current government for creating an unwieldy budget and deficit, and drew applause for proposing the removal of the death tax.

He said his knowledge of the private sector, combined with his experience as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, will allow him to build a more fiscally responsible state that still has a social conscience.

The appointment of government officials will be an important tool for achieving those goals, he said.

“I’m going to need help from people who have never been asked to do something before,” he said. “You keep your eyes open for competent, capable people in your community. I may be tapping them on the shoulder and asking them to come down to Olympia.”

Rossi ran to catch a ferry shortly before 1 p.m., but left attendees impressed.

Kathy Dernbach and Darlene French said they especially liked his humor and ability to communicate issues clearly.

“To me he could be anyone’s friend,” said French, a 17-year island resident.

Both said their conservative politics leave them feeling isolated on the island at times, and they often avoid talking politics with liberal friends. But they hope Republicans will be more outspoken in the future.

Dernbach, who has lived on Bainbridge for 10 years, said she has moved many times, and each community she lived in had its own mix of politics.

“Sometimes they were very Republican places, and sometimes they were very Democratic. It’s interesting to see the dynamic of how people come together,” she said.

Kitsap Republicans will be looking to change the political dynamic of the 23rd Legislative District, which is represented by three democrats, two of them from Bainbridge.

Rep. Rolfes, who is seeking her second term in Olympia, said candidates should strive to represent constituents regardless of party.

“Politics come into play when you’re running in a partisan race, but once you’re in you represent everyone,” she said.

Rolfes said neither major party can lay claim over the other on issues of fiscal responsibility and tax load at the national or state level.

The Legislature has made gains in bringing accountability to the ferry system, she said. And while unpopular with city leaders, Rolfes said the 1 percent cap on property tax increases – reinstated by the Legislature last fall – has been useful in forcing governments to streamline.

“I can’t speak for the entire party or for any other candidate,” she said. “The way I approach it is that resources are limited and it’s incumbent on everyone to make sure government runs more efficiently.”

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