Michelle Gregoire: Politics Inspires Washington's First Daughter
After a bruising and hotly contested gubernatorial race, Michelle Gregoire's '07 mother, Christine, won the Washington governor's race by a slim 129-vote margin. It's taught the environmental science major that voting is an incredibly precious gift.
"The campaign was one long roller-coaster ride," says Gregoire, a sophomore who is studying the political and economic aspects of environmental policy. She spent the summer with other college students working as an intern on her mother's campaign. "This was by far and away the best summer of my life. I loved the excitement and the 24/7 energy of the campaign. I got to speak to different groups at retirement homes and at legislative district meetings. I stuffed envelopes, wrote letters and helped organize a grassroots effort called the Friends of Gregoire. Sometimes I drove my mom to different events in the "campaign mobile." Members of the campaign and our whole family also toured the state in an RV. It was really fun and exciting."
The Gregoire family's political life began when Christine Gregoire, who was head of Washington's Office of Ecology, ran for the office of state attorney general. Michelle Gregoire was only 7 years old and she recalls the family sitting around the kitchen table discussing the prospect of a political future. "My mom was against running at first because we're a really close family and she was worried that running for political office might come between us. My older sister [Courtney Gregoire '01] said, 'You've always told us we could be anything we wanted to be. If that's true, you can be attorney general. Being a mom shouldn't stop you.'"
Christine Gregoire was elected attorney general in 1992 and reelected in 1996. As attorney general, she became an even better role model for her daughters. "Her political role has brought out so many more aspects of her that I respect. She was inspired into public service by President John Kennedy saying, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' She's instilled the principle of public service in my sister and me. Even my friends are inspired by her."
What Christine Gregorie's political career didn't do was change the Gregoire family's close ties. In fact, when she decided to run for governor, study groups revealed that most of the public wasn't even aware that she had a husband and family. "My mom tried to protect me and my sister from the spotlight. I never had to sacrifice anything because of my mom's political career and it's never interfered with our family's closeness. In fact, it's taught me that women can have close family connections and still have a strong role in public service."
During the Washington race for governor, the political rhetoric heated up and Gregoire's Republican political opponents said some pretty harsh things. "Washington was a swing state and the Republican National Committee pumped an amazing amount of money into the race. They really wanted to win. But it was hard hearing the criticisms about my mother. I take everything they say personally. I know she was running for governor, but at the end of the day, she's my mom."
The campaign is finally over, the Washington legislature has certified the election and Gregoire has been sworn in as governor. A few Republicans are still challenging the validity of the race, but few believe their efforts will be effective. Michelle Gregoire says the prospect of being the First Daughter is a bit daunting. "The whole process has been a little overwhelming. Getting used to being protected all the time by security will take some getting used to."
The experience, she says, has convinced her that politics and public service will always be a part of her life. She has her immediate sights on becoming an environmental attorney. "I've learned that you can personally make a difference. By being involved, you can have a say in your government. My mom winning by 129 votes out of more than 2 million illustrates how important your vote is. Voting is the power of the people and I hope all citizens get that message."