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Spin Control: Video exchange puts McKenna on hot seat

OLYMPIA – Candidates should act as though cameras are everywhere, because most likely they are.

That’s the lesson of a 30-second exchange between Rob McKenna, the state attorney general who is running for governor, and a young woman on a Seattle sidewalk that went from pointed conversation to YouTube video overnight and resuscitated an issue Republicans were probably glad to have killed during the legislative session.

McKenna was coming out of the Red Lion Conference Center last week when Kendra Obom, tape recorder in hand, approached and asked what his stance is on the Reproductive Parity Act. His response, McKenna said as he continued walking, was that he’s a lawyer for the state, suggested Obom turn her recorder off and accused her of “trying to bushwhack me,” as well as not being very polite and possibly not honest.

Obom, following along, protested that she was just wondering. McKenna, still walking, continued to ask if she thought she was being honest, until she said “forget it,” and he countered with a suggestion that she was trying to gain a political advantage, then closed off the exchange with “Why don’t you get a job?”

Video of the exchange quickly became fodder for the party and political bloggers, prompting the McKenna campaign to issue a statement that answered the initial question of where he stood on that particular legislation. That didn’t end the discussion, because within two hours the political arm of Planned Parenthood said McKenna didn’t know what he was talking about on some aspects of the law.

Granted, having Planned Parenthood disagree with the legal analysis of a Republican politician is about as unusual as dandelions in April. Anyone who thinks Obom just happened to be walking down the street, tape recorder in hand, and inadvertently bumped into McKenna while an amateur videographer with a smartphone happened by might be a prime candidate for investing in mineral rights to asteroids. Obom is a volunteer for the state Democratic Party, and the video was shot by a “tracker,” a party staffer who regularly follows McKenna.

But just because this was a setup doesn’t mean someone who wants to be governor shouldn’t be smart enough to have a better answer on the tip of his tongue, delivered in a concise and convincing manner before being summoned away by staff protesting “we’re late for an appointment.” That’s Candidate 101.

The Reproductive Parity Act isn’t some obscure bill before Congress that McKenna has never heard of. It was a major bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans in the last session. It essentially would require any insurance company in Washington that covers maternity benefits to also cover abortions. And because the Affordable Care Act will soon require all policies to cover maternity benefits, all Washington polices would then cover abortion. (Insert your favorite pro-life or pro-choice comment here.)

McKenna’s stance, that such a rule would jeopardize federal funding under a different law, was an argument offered by legislative Republicans. Planned Parenthood’s rejoinder, that his objections were “fully addressed in the bill as it stands,” may be overstating it a bit. The bill passed the House, and a Senate committee, but still had GOP questions about funding and never came to a floor vote. Leaders delayed floor debate until one of the last deadlines, and when Republicans staged their budget coup, that bill was collateral damage as time ran out. Gov. Chris Gregoire supported the bill during the session, but said she’d veto it if it came up during the special session to avoid adding another divisive issue to negotiations.

The concept has strong Democratic support, and if the Affordable Care Act isn’t vaporized by the U.S. Supreme Court, it will come up again next year, in a bill that could wind up on the desk of the next governor.

Obom’s question was fair game, even if McKenna didn’t like the forum in which it was asked.

Beyond that, suggesting she get a job seems like a gratuitous jab that conjures up hard hats confronting anti-war protesters in the ’60s or Wall Streeters confronting Occupiers last fall. It’s also an incorrect stereotype on his part. Obom has a job.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia Bureau Chief Jim Camden, appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos like the exchange between McKenna and Obom at blogs/spincontrol.
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