When Moses Lake businessman Fred Faber steered a young Christine Gregoire toward Gonzaga University School of Law, he may not have had any idea the force he was unleashing.
Today, she is Governor Gregoire, winner of the closest governor’s race in Washington state history.
And that’s just the latest in a long line of firsts that have distinguished Gregoire’s career.
After graduating from Gonzaga in 1977, she began her career in public service in the less-than-lofty post of clerk-typist in adult probation services.
She wasn’t there long, however, and after a stint as the head of the Department of Ecology — where she negotiated for the U.S. Department of Energy’s cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, generally regarded as the world’s largest such cleanup — she threw her hat into the attorney general’s race.
In 1992, she became the first woman in Washington elected to that position. She won reelection in 1996 and again in 2000.
One of Gregoire’s first accomplishments during her tenure as attorney general was the passage of a new ethics law for state government, a natural outgrowth of her Gonzaga education.
“You can’t go to Gonzaga without recognizing that it’s a Jesuit institution,” Gregoire says. “As a result, you receive a value-based education.”
That foundation in values is evident in the issues Gregoire tackled as attorney general: children’s welfare, consumer protection, the rights of identity theft victims, and the effects of rising drug prices, particularly on senior citizens.
She rose to national prominence as the lead negotiator in an unprecedented agreement between the attorneys general of 46 states and five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. In the largest financial settlement in history, Washington state alone received $4.5 billion.
The settlement also funded the American Legacy Foundation, an organization that urges young people to reject tobacco and seeks to help smokers quit. Gregoire previously chaired its board of directors.
Taking on the tobacco industry was no easy task, and Gregoire believes Gonzaga prepared her well.
“With the help of my educational opportunities there, I consider myself a problem-solver. I have an ability to be creative and innovative,” she says. “I can put myself in other people’s shoes and think through an issue from a wide perspective. And my education at Gonzaga gave me the technical skills I needed.”
Armed with those skills, in 2003 Gregoire began her historic run for governor.
After a long campaign, a close result, and three recounts, she won by the razor-thin margin of 129 votes (a result current as of March 4, 2005).
She quickly turned her attention to governing.
“As governor, I make decisions based on values — what’s good for the people of the state, what’s the right thing to do for the less fortunate,” she says. “That’s what Gonzaga stands for.
“I chose Gonzaga because Fred Faber, who was like a father to me, paid my tuition and encouraged me to consider Gonzaga,” Gregoire says. “I’m forever indebted to him, not only for paying my tuition, but also for guiding me to a wonderful law school.”