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Washington's governors race is going to be a donnybrook

An early handicapping of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. The likely nominees still haven't honed compelling messages, giving some room for challengers.

Attorney General Rob McKenna

Attorney General Rob McKenna Courtesy of the Office of Attorney General

Congressman Jay Inslee.

Congressman Jay Inslee.

Unsustainable budgets, angry constituents, rising demands, evaporating revenue streams, obtuse critics, and obnoxious interest groups.  Not the best of times to run for governor. But half a dozen or so people, all of them qualified, are preparing to run or thinking hard about it.  Allow me, with some of the hindsight of having run once myself, to preview the field.

The Democrats.

Governor Chris Gregoire.  Advantage: Incumbency.  Disadvantage: Incumbency.

A third term? It hasn’t been tried since Dan Evans did it in ’72 against former two termer Al Rosellini (The race had its rough moments.  The year’s biggest movie was “The Godfather” and bumper stickers appeared on cars that summer reading “We Need a Governor, Not a Godfather”). A third term would be mercifully easier than Gregoire’s second, but it is precisely because of her current term that she won’t get it.  Besides, wouldn’t she be more at home as a federal judge?

Congressman Jay Inslee. Advantage: Not part of the unpopular Olympia establishment. Disadvantage: Part of the unpopular Washington, D.C., establishment.

The progresive Congressman from north King County and Bainbridge Island is already running without announcing, hoping that early momentum will deter other Democrats from stepping in.  But what’s his message? Six short months ago, voters repealed a tax on candy and soda, prevented legislators from raising taxes, and thumped an income tax on wealthy people by more than 30 points.  Why would such voters want to replace unpopular liberal policies in Olympia with unpopular liberal policies from DC?

The Inslee message so far is that he doesn’t like Tim Eyman and he opposes Rob McKenna on health care. The Congressman needs a more substantive and positive message than that if he’s going to improve on his first run for governor in 1996, when he finished third in the Democratic primary behind Gary Locke and Norm Rice.

State Sen. Lisa Brown.  Advantage: Lots of uncollected favors.  Disadvantage: How can an Olympia insider change Olympia?

Democrats are hoping that if President Obama carries Washington state next year, which is likely, he will sweep a Democrat into the governor’s mansion. State history doesn’t always track that way. Republican Dan Evans won his first term during the Goldwater debacle of ’64.  Ronald Reagan, the last GOP Presidential candidate to carry the Evergreen State, won 59 percent of the vote here in ’84 while voters replaced John Spellman, the last Republican to win a governor’s race, with Pierce County Executive Booth Gardner. Washington voters may be divided about Washington, DC, but they are uniformly thumbs down on Olympia.  Lisa Brown, the state senate Majority Leader from Spokane, would be running at exactly the wrong time.  

King County Executive Dow Constantine.  Advantage: Left the legislature before the Olympia train wreck.  Disadvantage: Was running the locomotive during King County’s train wreck.  

King County suffers from some of the same problems plaguing Olympia: sky-high deficits made worse by the unchecked demands of government unions.  In fairness to Dow Constantine, much of this happened on the watch of his predecessor, Ron Sims, the most gifted speaker and inept manager since King County began electing a County Executive back in the late 60’s.    

Here’s the challenge for Dow. Gov. Gregoire has been unwilling to confront public unions in any meaningful way because their active opposition dooms a Democratic candidate in the primary for governor. Yet the price of loyalty has become steep. The governor is willing to toss thousands of working poor people off the state’s Basic Health Care Plan, cut back services for the elderly and mentally ill, and raise classroom sizes — but she won’t insist that state employees pay more than 15 percent of their health care plan.  Most people in the private sector pay closer to 30 percent.  The 3 percent “pay cut” for state workers is actually extra time off without compensation.  And some public workers continue to collect pay raises (called “step increases”).

So how would Dow be different? Would he stare down government unions the way Democrat Andrew Cuomo is doing in New York? Keep in mind that Dow was the anointed choice of public employee unions to succeed Sims. 


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 7:43 a.m. Inappropriate

This is a McKenna campaign piece posing as objective reporting. Hard to see how Crosscut can posture as "high quality local journalism" while continuing to run shameless flackery such as this.

woofer

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 8:10 a.m. Inappropriate

I suppose that by the standards of the Seattle latte swilling elite, any piece that is even handed and not shrill in tone must be a GOP campaign piece. Obviously the long knives are out for Rob McKenna already.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Is it my imagination or does Crosscut always seem to dive rightward during the fundraising drive?

spock

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

"So, can McKenna take the hits? Yes. He did during his days on the King County Council when he was bushwhacked for asking inconvenient questions about Sound Transit, and he emerged stronger for it."

While on the county council, and ST's board, McKenna released nothing but deceptive, pro-Sound Transit sound bites. He'd say "Light rail is over budget". That sound bite was meant to hide the truth - that Sound Move had a taxpayer-protection provision (a construction-period tax revenue spending limit) that by 1999 all of ST's leadership was attempting to hide. McKenna carried water there for the party in control, and he was rewarded with the AG's office.

McKenna's anti-taxpayer and pro-Sound Transit positions continued while he was AG, in a series of appellate proceedings on behalf of the state when ST's revenue-raising practices were implicated. Most recently he's been advocating strongly against the public's interests in maintaining its right to continued access for driving purposes to all the I-90 corridor infrastructure. WSDOT wants to transfer a large portion of it to Sound Transit for exclusive train use, and McKenna is 100% behind all of Sound Transit's untenable positions in the state supreme court "Freeman vs. Gregoire" proceeding in which the constitutional issue bearing on that planned handover may be resolved.

One of the main reasons McKenna is the only "R" in a key position in Olympia is he does everything the party in complete control wants when it comes to the statist policies and practices of Sound Transit.

The author refers to Ron Sims as a lousy government manager. All of the current policies of Sound Transit were set when Sims was the county exec. who selected a majority of the boardmembers. Sound Transit now is Sims' legacy. It is doing a staggeringly bad job of delivering cost-effective bus and train services to the public. It is entirely unaccountable to people; people can not exert political power over ST by any means. Sims' lousy management lives on in Sound Transit, and the people here now, and those who will come after us for generations, can do NOTHING about it.

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Carlson's statement, "Dems understand politics isn’t about negotiating; it’s about winning..." could've been reworded to indicate Reps also understand and make a full time practice of political dishonesty to win. "Drill baby drill." Otherwise, John's artice is a fair assessment of the state's biggest clown contest. At leat one candidate should run opposing the bored tunnel.
Mayor Mike needs help killing that circus escapee mad dog.

Wells

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 11:25 a.m. Inappropriate

To my perception, McKenna's biggest issue is going to be that his party has swung far to the right, and if he goes there he's going to lose his moderate cred and be painted as a Tea Partier. If he doesn't, he loses the base and then the election when they don't vote.

He's also running in 2012, a presidential election year, and if Obama gets even a percentage of the enthusiasm he had in 2008 there's going to be a lot of Republicans who don't benefit.

Ryan

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Judged by John Carlson's worshipful tone, I'd say the one danger in Rob McKenna's campaign is that we might lose him at Easter.

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Let's watch the Seattle/King County Governor's derby handicap deepen over the next few months and let's see how long the AG can keep out of the tunnel initiative question. The Governor wouldn’t pull the State’s head attorney into the fray knowing she’s not running and he might would she?

Artifacts

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 2:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Heartscribe, I think you're borrowing without attribution. Back in 1962, legendary Senator Warren Magnuson was in a tight re-election fight with a young conservative minister, Richard Christiansen, who campaigned on a family values platform. At one joint appearance, Magnuson pored over his challenger's literature and advised the crowd to think twice about voting for him "because he might not be here after Easter". Vintage Maggie, who eeked out a close contest and served another three terms.

As for the comments about the Viaduct tunnel, I can see it as a secondary issue in the Democratic primary (jobs, education (both k-12 and higher ed) and spending will dominate), but state voters are likely to grow as weary over the Viaduct (which is, after all, a STATE highway) as they were over the 3rd runway at SeaTac.

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 3:07 p.m. Inappropriate

AG McKenna having shown his party carrying colors over health care can kiss King County and the governorship good bye. Had he just sat back and let other states carry that lawsuit he could have run as a fiscally responsible moderate. Now he's been branded with full GOP nutty'ness and that's it.

Yes Rob did make some noise on the ST board, and he was rewarded by being dropped from the board. And yes he did "hide" the clause that allowed ST to change the plan and collect taxes on the plan for ever. But blaming him for all of that isn't going to cost him the Governorship. It's as Ryan says in order to get the GOP base out to vote, he'll drop any independents.

And I doubt Ms. Gregoire is going to run again. She looks pretty beat up from the 8 years at this job.

GaryP

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Excuse me, your bias is showing. By connecting the deficits to those "unchecked demands of public unions", you are merely perpetuating the false and latest radical republican untruth of "it's the unions fault we can't balance a budget". Banking industry greed, financial meltdown, trillions of dollars wasted on military spending. It couldn't be that, must be those damn unions. Perhaps you'd feel more at home living in Wisconsin.

WoofWoof2

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 4:55 p.m. Inappropriate

WoofWoof2, there is no "military budget" in Olympia unless you're counting the National Guard and the State Patrol. And there is no military spending in King County or Seattle, unless you're counting the police department.

The simple truth is that public labor costs account for well over half the state budget and two thirds of some local governments. The soaring costs of pension obligations, government health benefits so extravagant that they qualify for "cadillac plan" status under Obamacare, and "inflation raises" when no inflation is taking place (which is why there's been no Social Security COLA for the last two years), are creating budgets that simply can't be sustained, year by year. The primary threat to state and local services for school children, college students, the elderly and the indigent comes not from defense budgets and untaxed millionaires; it comes from the demands of government unions. Even Democratic policymakers like Andrew Cuomo in New York and Willie Brown in California are beginning to figure that out. Maybe one day you'll figure it out as well.

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 4:57 p.m. Inappropriate


Learn your history, Calson: The Magnuson line was originally used against 1956 opponent, unctuously pious Gov. Arthur Langlie.

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 7:24 p.m. Inappropriate

The idea that McKenna's wasteful lawsuit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will win is pure Rethuglican fantasy. The current score in the federal courts is 3-2 in favor of the government. You would also have to have Scalia reverse himself on his views of the Commerce Clause from an opinion as recent as 2005. (He may be a Rethuglican jerk, opposed to women's rights, etc., but he at least tries to be consistent in his own judicial opinions.)

But then anyone who believes that our budget problems are caused by public employees and not a broken tax system and tax breaks for corporations is not capable of understanding logical arguments.

clio

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 8:34 p.m. Inappropriate

"no inflation taking place"

Hmmm oil at over 100$ barrel. Been down to the gas station to buy a tank full lately? How about the grocery store? Seems like I pay more every time I go. No inflation if you don't count the things you actually need.

GaryP

Posted Mon, Apr 18, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

"Rethuglican?". That sure helps the quality of the discourse. Clio, what, praytell, do you think the 10th Amendment means? I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that some or all of so-called health insurance reform act is held to be unconstitutional by the courts of appeal and the supreme court.

"Governor McKenna.". Get used to it, people.

PJS

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 7:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Somebody posted this above:

"And yes [McKenna] did "hide" the clause that allowed ST to change the plan and collect taxes on the plan for ever."

The provision in Sound Move allowing permanent taxing at a level needed to subsidize operations after the construction period never was hidden. It is right there "in black and white". The assertion that ST changed the plan to collect taxes forever is entirely incorrect - ST had the right under Sound Move to collect the taxes forever (albeit at a lower rate). The following is from Appendix B of Sound Move - these terms originally were adopted by ST’s board in May, 1996 as an appendix to Resolution 72, and six months later they became part of the law when voters approved the 1996 ballot measure containing them:

-------------

"Should voter approval for a future phase capital program not be forthcoming, the RTA Board will initiate two steps to roll back the rate of sales tax collected by the RTA.

"a. First, the RTA will first [sic] initiate an accelerated pay off schedule for any outstanding bonds. Second, the RTA will implement a tax rollback to a level necessary to pay the accelerated schedule for debt service on outstanding bonds, system operations and maintenance, fare integration, capital replacement, and agency cost.

"b. Once all debt is retired, the RTA will implement a tax rollback to a level necessary to pay for system operations and maintenance, fare integration, capital replacement and agency administration."

-------------

The comments by McKenna in the 1999 - 2004 period about light rail budgets were designed to mislead the public about the set of constraints Sound Move placed on ST's management relating to how much tax revenue it was allowed to spend during the construction period.

Those spending limits are what he - and Sound Transit's other board members, managers, PR team, etc. - tried to hide. You can find those construction period revenue spending caps in Table 1 of Sound Move, and in an appendix to it.

Not surprisingly, Sound Transit has taken Resolution 72 and the full text of Sound Move off of its website.

Let's do it this way - if anyone thinks McKenna made ANY legitimate criticisms of ST's financing plans or practices - especially with respect to what the law required of it - set those statements out here and provide links. We'll discuss whether they are BS or not.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 8:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Reardon has managed Snohomish County well? I guess that doesn't include the IT department chief - gone because of the project that failed, or Craig Ladiser, the former Planning Department head arrested for lewd conduct and public drunkenness. In fact the Planning Department debacle at SnoCo resulted in a 6-figure payout for harassment and misconduct, all under Reardon's watch. That is but a few of the managerial mistakes Reardon has made.

whatever

Posted Tue, Apr 19, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

All I want is someone who actually has hands-on experience managing the complexities of government. Someone who knows how a utility works; understands the complex transportation issues between urban, rural, and suburban communities; who's actually had to work with third-party vendors and Federal contracts. Seattle and Washington have suffered for almost a decade at the hands of people without the necessary knowledge, experience or skills to do their jobs. Reardon and Constantine may be imperfect, but at least they're not clueless. We can't afford another 4-years of training wheels. Not now.

Posted Wed, Apr 20, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

"The governor is willing to toss thousands of working poor people off the state’s Basic Health Care Plan, cut back services for the elderly and mentally ill...but she won’t insist that state employees pay more than 15 percent of their health care plan. Most people in the private sector pay closer to 30 percent."

Most? What about part-time workers and the self-employed, who pay 100 percent?

And we are talking about premiums and costs that have skyrocketed. Wasn't Obamacare supposed to make healthcare more affordable?

This year alone, healthcare insurance premiums, as well as deductibles and co-pays, for all private-sector workers have risen into the stratosphere, making health insurance an unaffordable luxury - forcing many working people and their families to just risk going uninsured.

Posted Wed, Apr 20, 5:09 p.m. Inappropriate

I believe Executive Aaron Reardon would make an excellent candidate. He has state legislative experience in both chambers as well as executive experience in Snohomish County. Both those perspectives will be important, as well as his experience managing many problems and people who were not ideal.

He is a regional leader with Sound Transit, though that doesn't give him the name ID that Constantine has in King County. But he also doesn't have to wear being from King County around his neck statewide.

The toughest part will be getting enough money to define himself before other, well-funded candidates define the race in their favor. He should 'accidentally' buy media for his Snohomish County race in other media markets to boost his name ID early.

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