It was billed as a fund-raiser for Gov. Gary Locke. At least that's why 400 people each paid $500 to eat finger food last night in the ballroom of a downtown Seattle hotel.
But the event quickly turned into an impromptu pep rally for beleaguered Bill Gates and Microsoft, fresh from a pummeling by a federal court judge in Washington, D.C.
Gates was a co-host of the Locke fund-raiser and introduced the governor to the crowd. And while he made no mention of his legal troubles, Locke did.
No one should be surprised that a local politician paid homage to the hometown software magnate. But Locke made it clear last night that he thinks his friends in the Clinton administration will ultimately lose their case against his friend in Redmond.
The applause was long and loud for Microsoft's co-founder.
"Too bad I'm not running for office," Gates joked.
It was almost as if Locke were there merely to introduce Gates.
"I think the press was timing the applause, and we know that the person who got the most was Bill Gates, and deservedly so," said Locke, who then called for "another big round of applause for Bill Gates."
For the record, it was close. Gates had a 43-second ovation to Locke's 34 seconds.
A lot in common
Last night's event was a bit of a pick-me-up for Locke and Gates. Both have hit rough spots in their careers.
Gates' problems are well documented in the statement of facts issued by a federal court judge on Friday, declaring Microsoft was operating a monopoly.
Locke last week faced the overwhelming approval of Initiative 695, an anti-tax measure the first-term Democrat had strongly opposed.
"You know Bill and I actually have a lot in common," Locke said. "Well, both of us had our hair poked fun of."
(Locke has a notorious bowl cut, while Gates maintains a "Leave-It-To-Beaver" style.)
"We've been accused of concentrating so much on our work we never had time to get a life, and, before we found our spouses, our parents gave up on us. . . . And, of course, last, but not least, we both had very interesting weeks last week."
Locke also pointed out that he and Gates have children about the same age. Their wives are friends and co-chair the Governor's Commission on Early Learning.
Locke said he was sure everyone in the audience believed as he did, that "in Bill's case the judge's ruling will be overturned and Microsoft will ultimately prevail."
"No company and no individual has done more to empower people, to level the information-playing field, to serve the consumers than Microsoft and Bill Gates," Locke said.
Gates' good works
Gates' charitable giving was hailed by Locke and first lady Mona Locke, the mistress of ceremonies for the event.
Locke used the rest of his speech to reiterate that he will follow the voters' wishes in implementing I-695 and by giving his standard stump speech - although with a bit more emotion and gusto than normal - about the importance of education.
Gates gave a short introduction, talking of Locke's support for education and the technology role he plays on the National Governor's Association.
After Locke's speech, Gates talked briefly to the governor about I-695 and the state's initiative process.
"That whole referendum thing is fascinating," Gates told Locke. "Maybe we can tap that for education the same way."
"We'll have to talk about that," Locke said.
Gates was mobbed by the crowd as he made his way from the ballroom. People shook his hand, touched his arm, asked him for help for various causes and urged him to keep fighting the federal government.
"I'll do my best," Gates told one man.
While it was a low-key speech, it was unusual in that Gates doesn't normally take a public role in politics. He has been giving more donations recently and trying to maintain a bipartisan approach. He recently hosted a fund-raiser for Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, another critic of last week's court ruling.
Republican Party Chairman Dale Foreman, a possible opponent of Locke's next year, said Gates has been very generous to the party. He said a Microsoft executive told him recently, "There are a lot of people out there who always assumed they were Democrats, but all of a sudden with this antitrust investigation and talking around the water cooler, they realize they are free-marketeers."
`A true American hero'
Praising Gates is one of the few things Foreman agrees with Locke about.
"Gates is a true American hero," Foreman said. "He has created jobs for our economy, but he has created hope for our kids. Any politician would love to hitch their wagon onto Microsoft's star."
Although Locke has not yet officially announced he is running for a second term, Bill Marler, an attorney and Locke's campaign-finance chairman, said the campaign had raised about $500,000 before last night.
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