Gov. Chris Gregoire won't run for re-election in 2012.
She made the announcement Monday morning at the governor's mansion after a hurriedly arranged news conference. Gregoire last week said she'd make a decision after conferring with her family over the weekend.
"I made some very difficult decisions this past session with my colleagues in the Legislature. These are tough times and they call for tough decisions," Gregoire told reporters gathered in front of the governor's mansion. "Today I make another call, and another tough decision. Today I say I will not run for a third term as governor of this great state."
Her announcement comes less than a week after Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna announced his bid. The decision clears the way for Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, who's been gearing up for a run.
Inslee was mum Monday morning, saying in a statement: "Today is her day. I will make my intentions on the governor's race known shortly."
Gregoire had been widely expected to step aside.
Washington's 2012 gubernatorial contest is viewed as one of the nation's most competitive. It will certainly be a change of pace for voters who've gone through two rancorous, back-to-back elections with Gregoire and Republican candidate Dino Rossi.
Paul Berendt, who chaired the state Democratic Party when Gregoire first ran for governor, said he'd hoped she'd run again but observed that the past six years have "been a meat grinder for her."
The good times
If you plotted Gregoire's political lows and highs on a graph it would look like an inverted V.
She won her first term in 2004 by just 133 votes — after two recounts and a court challenge. It was a bitterly contested election that put a question mark on her first term.
"Gregoire will not only be deprived of a honeymoon, she will have about half the state questioning the very legality of the marriage from day one," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said at the time.
Her inaugural address was greeted by brooding Republicans who barely acknowledged her existence.
But Gregoire got through it, and by the end of 2006 a rebounding economy had poured billions of tax dollars into the state treasury.
By any standard, it was the highlight of her tenure.
A beaming Gregoire greeted reporters in December of that year, saying "I love my budget" and outlined plans to increase state spending by $4 billion, much of it going into education. "These are good times, these are exciting times," she said. "Now is the time to make investments in the future."
Two years later she beat Rossi again, this time by a solid margin of 194,614 votes.
The bad times
Then, almost immediately, the economic collapse came, along with several rounds of budget cutting.
By December 2010, almost four years to the day after she released the budget she loved, Gregoire met with reporters to announce $4 billion in cuts.
"I hate my budget," she said, her voice shaking. "I hate it because in some places I don't even think it's moral."
Billions of dollars that she helped put into K-12, higher education and social services during her first term have largely been unraveled.
The governor has since shown signs that the cuts, and Olympia politics, have started to wear on her.
"I've tried hard in a number of ways to accomplish what I wanted, and I haven't made the progress I wanted to make," she said in January, adding later, "No matter how hard you try to make change, there are always those who want to protect something or another."
And just recently, when reporters asked Gregoire if she planned to run again and had things she still wanted to accomplish, the governor replied, "We're not on my agenda. I didn't run on this agenda. I didn't run on it six years ago and I didn't run on it two years ago."
Berendt and current state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz both noted that eight years is about as long as any governor lasts in Washington, even if they can run for another term. Her predecessor, former Gov. Gary Locke served eight years. As did her friend and mentor, former Gov. Booth Gardner.
The only person to serve three consecutive terms was former Republican Gov. Dan Evans, who left office in 1977.
Gregoire, 64, has talked in the past about the possibility of working in President Obama's administration.
There was some speculation last year that she was being considered for the U.S. solicitor general post. White House staff said she was on their list of candidates. But Gregoire pulled herself out of possible contention last summer, saying it wasn't a good time to leave because of the state's fiscal crisis.
Many people have speculated she might be offered a post if the president is re-elected.
Gregoire spent her career in state government, working as an assistant attorney general, director of the state Department of Ecology, state attorney general from 1992 to 2004 and then as governor for the past six years.
"I think history will record that Chris Gregoire led this state through one of its most difficult periods ever, through relentless budget cutting," Pelz said. "For a woman with progressive values to repeatedly reduce social services and the quality of the education system in her state took great leadership."
Gregoire is credited with being instrumental in helping push through gas taxes that have paid for billions of dollars in highway projects across the state. She's also played lead roles in negotiating and pushing forward agreements to tear down and replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Highway 520 bridge.
The governor's office cited steps she's taken to protect the Puget Sound and restructure health care, as well as creating the state Department of Early Learning.
Interestingly, a long list of accomplishments prepared by her office also mentioned steps taken this year to eliminate automatic cost-of-living increases for retired state workers in older closed pensions, a move expected to save $344 million over two years.
She also touted the consolidation of state agencies, a step that's expected to save millions and result in 95 fewer state employees.
What might have been
If not for the recession, the list likely would have talked about dramatic increases in funding for K-12 and higher education. There's none of that now.
"The agenda of any governor must be to focus on the challenge at hand and this recession has presented a great challenge. Through three years of a down economy, declining revenues and increasing need we've worked together to be certain that the economic times will not define us, but that we will define our own future," Gregoire said in her statement.
Pelz said the past couple of years must have been bittersweet for Gregoire.
Bitter because she had to unravel her agenda, but it was tempered by this fact, he said:
"She got to oversee the budget cutting with her values, as opposed to the values of Dino Rossi."