Democrat Christine Gregoire, winner of one of the closest governor’s races in U.S. history, was inaugurated Wednesday amid a legal challenge that could undo her election.
Gregoire, 57, a scrappy three-term attorney general who took on the tobacco industry, took the oath of office before a joint session of the Legislature. Republicans had battled for weeks to delay her inauguration.
Republicans in the House chamber rose along with cheering Democrats to greet her swearing-in but did not join in the applause.
Backers of her GOP rival, Dino Rossi, continue to push for a whole new election to decide the race.
“This is not an easy time to lead,” Gregoire said in her first official speech. “Many have asked how I can govern without a clear mandate from the voters. I believe the voters have given all of us a mandate — a mandate to overcome our differences and to solve problems.”
Although the state is dependably Democratic, Gregoire narrowly lost the first two vote counts. But when Democrats ordered one final hand recount, she pulled ahead for the first time, winning by a minuscule 129 votes out of 2.9 million ballots cast.
Republicans say widespread irregularities, including votes cast by felons and dead people, spoiled the election to the point where it is impossible to truly know who won.
Republicans also contend that King County, a Democratic stronghold and the state’s largest county, cannot match more than 1,000 votes to actual voter names.
GOP wants do-over
Invoking a rarely used law that allows an election “contest,” Republicans have asked the courts to set aside the election and order a redo.
The case is expected to end up in the state Supreme Court.
Gregoire said the state is more unified than might be apparent from the disputed election. Voters everywhere want good-paying jobs, affordable health care, efficient government, good schools and a clean environment, she said. She also announced creation of a commission to look at election reform.
“Clearly, the election recount ordeal of the last two months has challenged us, and among our challenges this session is election reform,” she said. “We want every vote to count — and to be counted right the first time.”