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Spin Control: ‘I’m not politicizing, my opponent is’

OLYMPIA – A week after the Legislature’s overtime session wrapped up, Democrats accused GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna of delaying the final compromise by politicizing the process.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, joined members of Democratic governor candidate Jay Inslee’s staff to accuse McKenna of using the budget stalemate “for political purposes” to push reform proposals.

A spokesman for the McKenna campaign called the accusations “nonsensical.” McKenna did talk about budget principles he would follow as governor, but “didn’t try to inject himself into day-to-day negotiations,” Charles McCray III said.

Murray and the Inslee campaign were merely being “protectors of the status quo,” McCray countered. “It’s the status quo mentality in Olympia that is the reason it took so long.”

The average voter might wonder how a Legislative session that essentially stretched from Thanksgiving to Easter and dealt with a yawning budget gap, pensions, quadrennial balanced budgeting requirements, removal of a voter-mandated reduction in class sizes, to name just a few things, could at any point be de-politicized. It may also seem odd to said voter that a politician, which Murray is by occupation, and political operatives, like McCray and Inslee’s staffers are, might hurl the word political as an insult or take umbrage to it as it flies past their ear.

Setting irony aside, the quick and dirty version of this dispute goes something like this: McKenna supported the maneuver by all 22 Republicans and three breakaway Democrats late in the regular session that pushed through an alternative budget. Murray questioned how McKenna, who has called for increased spending on education in his capacity as a gubernatorial candidate, could support a budget that cut public schools and colleges.

McKenna later said he “wasn’t thrilled” with the education cuts in that alternative budget. At a campaign press conference during the third week of the special session, he said if he’d been involved in discussions over that alternative Senate budget, “I would’ve gone to them and said, ‘Let’s not make the education cuts.’ ”

At that press conference, McKenna accused Democratic leaders in general, and House Speaker Frank Chopp in particular, of holding up negotiations by refusing to allow votes on reforms.

Some might consider that politicizing the situation, but partisan lines over the reforms aren’t so clear-cut. The original proposal on a four-year balanced budget, a constitutional amendment, came from a Senate Democrat, one of the three who joined Republicans on the budget vote.

Murray said that’s a stricter rule than any state in the Union has, and “forces you to predict something in the future that is almost unpredictable.” The negotiated settlement over the budget and reforms resulted in a statutory requirement, with some exceptions, for a four-year balanced budget, which would be easier to amend by future Legislatures.

“It took us to bring some common sense to it,” Murray said.

On his website, McKenna details a series of ideas to reform the budget process he would push as governor but doesn’t mention balancing the budget for four years, rather than the current two years. At his press conference earlier this month, he supported a four-year balanced budget but “I don’t know if it requires a constitutional amendment.”

Speaking of politicizing the session, Republicans have accused legislative Democrats of prolonging things in Olympia to extend the blackout on fundraising and disadvantage McKenna. When the Legislature is in session, folks who hold state office can’t raise money to run for any other state office.

That accusation seems a bit thin because legislators who wanted to run for re-election, as well as those who wanted to trade their current position for one of the many statewide posts on this year’s ballot, were under the same restriction. After McKenna showed the ability to raise six figures on a weekend break between the regular and special sessions, extending the time in Olympia would’ve been like organizing a firing squad by forming a circle.

The participants in this little back-and-forth might be doing their best Captain Renault impression that they are shocked that politics were occurring at the session. If anything, it seems to be best described by that most familiar of phrases. Not better or worse. Just politics as usual.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia Bureau Chief Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at spincontrol.