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Sunday, October 11, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Locke Takes To TV To Challenge I-200

Seattle Times Olympia Bureau

OLYMPIA - The campaign against Initiative 200 premiered on television this weekend with a commercial that also signals a political blooming of sorts for Gov. Gary Locke.

"As governor, I've never come before you this way," Locke, a first-term Democrat, says in the 30-second commercial. "But there's an issue we face that's just too important."

The ad is the most visible sign yet of Locke's first high-profile political stand since his 1996 election. Locke has done more for the No!200 campaign than for any other initiative, issue or candidate.

He's raised money for the campaign, helped marshal business opposition, and written - or at least signed - the official voter's pamphlet statement against the initiative.

"I didn't sit down and consciously think about it," Locke said of deciding to take an active role. "I think our state would be going backward if our state were to pass Initiative 200, therefore I'm involved in it."

That Locke has become the center of the opposition campaign reflects his popularity halfway through his four-year term. As the nation's first Chinese-American governor, he has a story of success from immigrant roots. He says he himself is a product of affirmative action.

"He is a very compelling spokesman for the issue," said Michelle Ackermann, spokeswoman for the No!200 campaign.

In the commercial, Locke's rhetoric outpaces the facts in one key area.

Locke says: "Initiative 200 is written to sound good, but it's misleading and full of hidden consequences. It will abolish affirmative action and hurt real people."

In fact, I-200 would not abolish affirmative action. It would prohibit racial and gender preferences in state- and local-government hiring, contracting and education.

Both sides debate how much would be left of government affirmative-action plans. Supporters say the government could continue outreach and recruitment programs. Opponents argue, and Locke says in the commercial, that it is a confusing initiative with unknown consequences.

"I think the governor fears that ultimately it will abolish affirmative action," said Locke's communications director Keith Love.

John Carlson, chairman of the campaign supporting I-200, said Locke and the opposition campaign are "genuinely confused."

"People believe the government should protect people from race and gender discrimination, not engage in it," Carlson said. "Even most Democrats believe these things."

Locke has taken stands on initiatives and ballot measures since taking office. This campaign season he led a rally for Initiative 688, which would raise the minimum wage.

He has repeatedly expressed his opposition to Referendum 49, the Republican-sponsored transportation plan on the November ballot. But he has resisted requests to take a more active role, including raising money, said Andrew Hysell, director of the No on 49 campaign.

But Locke has gone all out to defeat I-200.

Early in the summer he worked to get business leaders to meetings to discuss I-200, saying in one letter, "I believe it is one of the most important ballot measures facing our state in years."

He said he made telephone calls to lobby members of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce to oppose the initiative, which the chamber's board of trustees voted to do last month.

Carlson said he wants to debate Locke now that the governor has become the de facto spokesman for the opposition campaign.

"Speaking your position is one thing, defending it is another," Carlson said.

Love said there would be no face-off between the governor and the well-known political activist and radio talk show host.

"The governor has no plans to debate anyone," Love said, "and by the way, who is John Carlson?"

David Postman's phone message number is 360-943-9882. His e-mail address is: dpostman@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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