Gregoire recounts highs and lows of governorship

SEATTLE -- Despite governing during the worst recession in U.S. History, Governor Chris Gregoire says she's leaving the state in better shape than when she took office 8 years ago.

Gregoire describes her two terms in office as a "roller coaster ride." She said her proudest moments were creating the Department of Childhood Education, increasing transportation construction with her gas tax and leading the way on health care reform.

She also said she had no idea how difficult things would be in her second term, when the state and the country sunk into a deep recession. Surviving the recession -- which meant cutting programs near to her heart -- hurt Gregoire, and she admits to shedding tears.

She said she couldn't help but envision the human faces behind the numbers and the impact the cuts would have on them.

"Government is supposed to be there when no one else is, and it dawned on us government wasn't going to be there when people needed us the most," Gregoire said.

And even those weren't the worst of times. Her most difficult moments as governor were the shocking and sad series of police shootings. Losing several law enforcement officers, attending one memorial service after another and the grief communities suffered through never escape her mind.

"The day we lost the four Lakewood police officers, as I look back at my last 8 years, was one of the darkest days in office," she said.

There were better days, of course. One of the happiest moments of her time in office was somewhat of an epiphany that came with the help of her family. As a Catholic, Gregoire struggled with the issue of same sex marriage until her daughters told her the issue would end up being the civil rights movement of this generation.

"I realized it was time for me to understand it was absolutely unacceptable for the state to engage in any form of discrimination, and the day I publicly said that I felt so much better," she said.

Another high point was her meeting in Seattle with the Dali Lama.

"I had a personal meeting with him. He put his head on my head. It was a really inspirational moment for me -- a calming effect," she said.

While that was a magical moment, Gregoire said it was not life changing.

"My life changing thing, I will tell you, was my trip to visit our troops in Iraq," she said.

While giving them a sendoff, Gregoire promised the 81st brigade of the Washington State National Guard that she would visit them in the war zone. She did just that, and said seeing what those young men and women go through every single day left a lasting impression on her. Since so many of them asked her if they would have a job when they came home, Gregoire has taken steps to ensure that they do.

With Jay Inslee's inauguration next month, the big question everyone is asking is what is next for Christine Gregoire?

"I hope that on January 16 at noon I can clear my head and start thinking about my own personal future," she said.

Gregoire said she's looking forward to spending more time with her family. While serving Washington, President Obama courted her to come work for his administration, and Gregoire said she wouldn't be able to say no if the president calls again.