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Race for state’s top job focuses on Inslee, McKenna

Wed., July 18, 2012, midnight

OLYMPIA – If elections turned on precedent, Washington’s governor’s race might be considered a toss-up for the two main candidates.

Washington hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980. Advantage: Democrat Jay Inslee, a former congressman.

The current governor moved up to the job from the position of state attorney general. Advantage: Republican Rob McKenna, the current attorney general.

Elections do not turn on precedent, but on tangible things like issues and intangibles like voter recognition and likeability, plus the smart spending of the candidates’ seven-figure campaign funds.

The edge on voter recognition probably goes to McKenna, who has run and won twice statewide for his current job, and served on the King County Council before that. Inslee is the only person in Washington to have represented two different congressional districts – Central Washington’s 4th District from 1993-94, and north central Puget Sound’s 1st District from 1999 until early this year, when he resigned to campaign full time. Because that still leaves about 80 percent of the state voters outside districts that he’s won, Inslee is flooding the airwaves with ads to introduce himself to them as the ballots hit the mailboxes.

Both are expected to cruise through the Aug. 7 primary – so much so that the state’s largest business organization held a gubernatorial debate in early June for just them.

There are, however, seven other names on the ballot: Pastor Shahram Hadian, aerospace worker Max Sampson and artist Javier Lopez, all Republicans; commercial real estate owner Rob Hill, a Democrat; former corrections worker James White, computer programmer and pastor L. Dale Sorgren, both independent; and law professor and former holistic retreat center director Christian Joubert, who lists no party preference.

Of those seven, the one with the most active campaign is Hadian, attempting to outflank McKenna on the right, seeking support from the more conservative elements in the GOP as well as independent groups like unaffiliated members of the tea party with harder stands against abortion, same-sex marriage and the federal health care reform act.

Health care reform has been one of the biggest differences between McKenna and Inslee since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Inslee voted for the bill. McKenna moved quickly to join officials from other states, most of them Republican, suing to block the law.

At the time, McKenna said there were things about the law that would benefit the state and that he could support, but claimed the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance was unconstitutional. The lawsuit went further, asking the courts to throw out the entire law. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with one of McKenna’s points, that Congress doesn’t have the power to tell people to buy insurance; but that it does have the power to penalize them if they don’t. On a 5-4 vote, most of the Affordable Care Act was upheld.

That prompted McKenna to say Congressional Republicans should forego efforts to repeal the law, a waste of time with Democrats controlling the Senate and President Obama in the White House, and concentrate on improving sections that don’t work. His later attempts to clarify or expand on that stance were labeled as flip-flops by the Inslee campaign. Both support Health Benefits Exchanges, a way for small businesses and individuals to shop for medical insurance on the Internet, which Washington has been a leader in developing.

For some issues, such as education, voters have to dig below the surface to determine how much Inslee and McKenna disagree. Both criticize the declining percentage of the state budget that has gone to the state’s colleges and universities, and promise to reverse the trend.

Both want better-funded, more-innovative public schools with improved outcomes for students. McKenna supports charter schools, Inslee backs the state’s innovative schools program, to provide some of these improvements. Neither is willing at this point to raise taxes to pay for that; they’d rearrange budgets and redirect spending, something that current Gov. Chris Gregoire warns isn’t realistic. At times, the education platforms seem to set impossibly high standards, such as when Inslee says he’ll ensure every child will have excellent teachers, principals and schools, without hard figures on how that would be accomplished or how much it would cost.

Both want to increase jobs, Inslee by focusing on promising clusters like aerospace, clean energy and health care. McKenna supports fewer state regulations, quicker permits, simpler taxation, and more affordable costs for unemployment and workers’ comp.

The biggest issue the next governor will face is likely to be the state’s struggling budget, which has prompted a string of special sessions in the past three years. McKenna wants to shrink government, do more with less, and allow “managed competition” for state services, allowing private business to provide some services if cheaper. Inslee says he’ll get rid of wasteful spending and improve quality with the kind of lean management program large businesses use.


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