Democrats pick Wash. governor to answer Bush

Locke's speech to focus on U.S. economic woes, help for everyday people


SEATTLE - When President Bush finishes the State of the Union address tomorrow, the Democrats will nudge to center stage a relatively obscure governor from the West to say that the drums of war should not drown out the worst economic crisis in a half-century for state governments.

The governor, Gary Locke of Washington, already has a small niche in history as the first Chinese-American to hold a state's highest office. Now he will become one of few governors ever chosen to give the nationally televised response to the president's message to Congress.

Locke, the son of Chinese immigrants, grew up in publicly subsidized housing in Seattle and went to Yale University, in part, on affirmative action scholarships. So his biography may be more powerful than the message he plans to deliver in a bit more than 10 minutes tomorrow night.

But Locke said in an interview that he plans to contrast Bush's proposal on cutting dividend taxes with Democrats' plan to "help out everyday people who are struggling."

He noted that 1.5 million jobs had been lost since the recession began two years ago and that many states are awash in red ink. The president's plan to eliminate taxes on stock dividends will only make the problem in the statehouses worse, Locke said.

On foreign policy, the Democrats are unlikely to depart much from the president's chosen path, according to people who are helping to draft Locke's speech, except to urge more backing from traditional allies before going to war.

But Locke said, "We think there are clear distinctions between the Democratic approach and the president's."

Usually, party leaders in Congress give the opposition response. But the governors, who provided Democrats with one of the few bright spots in the last election by having gained four seats for a total of 24, have been pressing for more say in the national political message.

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