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Thursday, October 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Rossi's social views matter

For months, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi has been selling the idea it doesn't matter if he were to be Washington's first anti-abortion governor in more than 30 years. "I'm not running for Supreme Court," he says over and over again.

Rossi will repeat that in that smooth salesman voice of his until someone calls him on it. Well, it does matter. It matters where he stands on a variety of social issues, including abortion, gay rights and stem-cell research.

Rossi opposes abortion except in the case of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother, which puts him to the right of pro-choice Washingtonians who, if anything, have a libertarian streak on such issues.

To be clear, few people favor abortion. A lot of people want the option if they have to make a difficult personal choice. They want government to butt out of a most personal decision. Our state long has been uniquely insistent on having this prerogative and fiercely protective of individual rights.

In 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade, Washington voters decided by initiative to legalize abortion. There have been three other initiatives since, confirming Washington's pro-choice sentiments. But it is a thin line of protection.

Any initiative can be changed after two years by a vote of 50 percent of the Legislature plus one, plus a governor's signature.

At the federal level, the Supreme Court's narrow split favoring a legal right to abortion is tentative. Some members of the Supreme Court are elderly or not in the best health. If President Bush is re-elected, the balance could shift.

Rossi says he has been in the Legislature seven years and never penned an anti-choice bill.

Good for him, but that statement does not wipe away legitimate concerns about his stance. Being governor is a different proposition. A governor can be non-interventionist until a bill limiting the right comes to his desk. Then the top official has to decide; it is hard to imagine Rossi's personal views would not come into play.

A variety of bills is possible — legislation banning so-called late-term abortions, imposing waiting periods for abortion of 24 to 48 hours or limiting state funding of abortions for poor women.

Currently in Washington, Medicaid money covers abortion for poor women, but an anti-choice Legislature and governor could change that, explained state Rep. Eileen Cody, the West Seattle Democrat, nurse and chairwoman of the House Health Care Committee.

Rossi is affable, smart and has some marks of moderation compared with more recent GOP candidates. He serves admirably on the board of the Nature Conservancy, a group that believes in the wise principle of buying some of the land it wants to protect.

But several positions are troubling: his stance on abortion; his decision to back an initiative years ago that unraveled affirmative-action programs in public hiring and education; and his support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Consider, for example, the views of Rob McKenna, the Republican King County Councilman running for state attorney general. What I like about McKenna is he studies issues intensely, absorbs the information and then commonly carves a thoughtful, middle-ground position.

McKenna opposes abortion personally but does not think the government should restrict a woman's basic right to choose.

Same, too, with the last Republican governor, John Spellman, elected in 1980, who describes himself as pro-choice with reservations. "I personally don't endorse abortion but I support a woman's right to choose one."

On gay marriage, Rossi, again, is more conservative than most Washingtonians, including many Republicans. Within hours of George Bush's decision to support the constitutional ban on gay marriage, Rossi said he, too, supports using the Constitution to ban gay marriage.

McKenna personally believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, but he opposes the use of the Constitution to ban gay marriage. Thoughtful middle ground.

On the heated issue of stem-cell research, Rossi supports adult stem-cell research but favors using federal funds on existing embryonic stem-cell lines, not new embryonic stem cells.

Selecting a governor is one of the most important decisions voters will make this year, and as always, they will make it on a wide range of subjects, everything from the economy to business regulations to personal ethics and managerial experience.

But Rossi cannot pretend his views on social issues are ho-hum or insignificant. They matter to a lot of voters, especially women. He cannot will these issues away.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is jbalter@seattletimes.com. Look for more of her thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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