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Starting gun for a marathon governor's race

Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna are strong enough candidates to be clearing out the field. But one Democrat could still confound the front-runners.

Inslee at the "Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency" Awards Dinner

Inslee at the "Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency" Awards Dinner Jay Inslee (Flickr)

Rob McKenna

Rob McKenna Office of Attorney General

With Gov. Chris Gregoire out of the gubernatorial race (as expected), let’s review who’s in it, who isn’t (and why). And take a look at the one man who could step in and scramble the entire race.

Attorney General Rob McKenna has superb political timing, and this election is no exception. One illustration drives this point home (alas at my expense). When I challenged incumbent Democrat Gary Locke back in 2000, a Right Track/Wrong Track survey showed just 27 percent of the electorate thinking the state was on “the wrong track,” reflecting the historic strength of the state’s economy at that time. Twenty-seven percent was less than the Republican base vote. Foolishly, I paid the survey no mind.

Recently I saw a similar survey showing the obverse: about 27 percent of voters think we’re on the right track today. That's as good as it gets for a Republican challenger. McKenna also has eight years of statewide name recognition without being tarnished by an unpopular Democratic governor and state legislature. His major drawback is the “R” next to his name in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican U.S. senator in 17 years, a Republican president in 27 years, or a Republican governor in 31 years.

Money for McKenna will not be a problem. Nor for Congressman Jay Inslee. Don’t be surprised if this becomes a $45 or even $50 million  race, counting money raised and spent by the candidates, the parties, and especially the 527 “independent expenditure” organizations covering all sides of the political spectrum. Talk about growth patterns! Between 2000 and 2008, the amounts raised and spent by just the candidates quadrupled.

Jay Inslee has been eying this race since scrambling back to Congress in ’98. Being a Democrat helps, but not like the 2008 Obama election. His party dominates Olympia, and people are weary of its status quo. How would Gov. Inslee be different? He must answer that question convincingly to win this race.

Inslee announced just a few days ago, but a chilly review by an expected ally, Seattlepi.com columnist Joel Connelly, suggests a shaky start: “The rollout of Inslee’s candidacy came up short, and left the impression that it needed a lot more time in the oven.” This race will be under the lights for nearly a year and a half.

Inslee also stumbled (I'm assuming his people know he stumbled) when he suggested using the state pension fund to subsidize start-up companies. Venture capital is called “risk capital” for a reason. Raiding the pension funds of retired state workers to assist new (and ultimately, politically connected) companies promising no guaranteed financial return is tantamount to malfeasance.

But Inslee’s overall theme is sound: Jobs, more than anything else, are what people care most about. How to create them, or keep them here, is a good first battle between him and McKenna.

The other candidates who eyed the race, Senate leader Lisa Brown from Spokane and King County Executive Dow Constantine, jumped on board for Inslee. Aaron Reardon is locked in a spirited battle for a third term as Snohomish County Executive. But one Democrat has stepped toward the spotlight who wasn’t there two months ago: State Auditor Brian Sonntag.

Sonntag would be a nightmare for Inslee in a primary and a headache for McKenna in a general. He is, simply put, a Democrat who thinks the government wastes too much money. He proves his point with a series of performance audits that have properly embarrassed governments from the Seattle School District (for its Chicago-style culture of political backscratching), to the state Department of Transportation, which he noted did not include congestion reduction as a department priority (one would think it would be its reason for existing).

Sonntag, genial, gentlemanly and always approachable, is immensely popular with voters because he’s validating their belief that government is out of touch, overly intrusive, and way too expensive. But this has also made him the least popular Democrat inside the Capitol's ramparts. Legislators denied him the authority to do performance audits until a ballot initiative gave it to him along with a revenue stream to pay for them six years ago. Since then, the legislature has tried to choke off more audits by raiding his budget. The audits still come, but Sonntag’s authority is limited; he can conduct and release audits, but not enforce them.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 8:03 a.m. Inappropriate

This is an interesting race.

It looks like Inslee's to lose. That's what the polls show. Along with the long line of fleeting statewide GOP candidates who have been introduced with similar clever hyperbole - and crashed.

McKenna has never had a hard fought statewide race. Campaigns for AG are largely invisible and don't expose the things that seem to always drag the GOP candidates to defeat when it comes to Governor.

John overplays the appeal of Sonntag, who endorsed the GOP's Susan Hutchison for King County Executive and has been in Olympia longer than moss. "Clean house" - right.

Who are the Republicans putting up against Cantwell?

Jan

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

I just can't stomach any of it anymore, and certainly not the down your nose pretentious I've got mine short hair comfortable khaki clad suburb Bellevue conservative perspective on all the would be fiddlers to the bonfire convention. Will this be the first election since I was 18 in which I will abstain from voting? Probably not. But the malaise is firmly set into my bones and I know I am not the only one. Cynicism is an awful thing, and so is politics. I just don't see the possibility of anyone making a real difference anymore, or honestly even caring about the individual citizen. Anyone who wants to make a real difference in the world gave up on doing it within the political system some time ago which leaves us with ... what?

tom_hyde

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

How come Crosscut's frontpage shows more comments to this story than are visible?

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Carlson is exactly right about Sonntag, He's the best possible candidate for governor, exactly because he would clean house, and that has the comfortable mediocrities in Olympia scared to death. Therefore, he has countless enemies in the establishment. It's really a shame, but I don't think our King County overlords are going to wake up to the fiscal and regulatory crisis in this state until it's too late. They just love emulating California. So our next governor will be Inslee, and we'll continue to stumble towards the abyss.

dbreneman

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Having knocked Carlson in the past for having tried to palm off egregious political flackery as objective reporting, I am happy to note (along with Mr. Watson) a marked improvement in his latest offering. Not perfect, mind you, but at least a serious attempt overall to marshal actual relevant factual information and analyze its significance. His worst transgression is using the word "malfeasance" to describe an ill-advised Inslee suggestion to use state pension funds to underwrite start-ups. It may indeed be a bad idea, but that is irresponsible language -- more suitable for right-wing shock radio than a journal aspiring to be taken seriously.

woofer

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 10:24 a.m. Inappropriate

As a blue collar Pierce County Democrat, I can say with confidence that, though we once loved Brian Sonntag, we no longer support him and have let him know in no uncertain terms that we are backing Inslee for governor. He lost us for good when he backed Susan Hutchinson.

quiller

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 10:33 a.m. Inappropriate

An interesting Republican screed by the always-spinning Mr. Carlson. My take is that he's trying to flatter Sonntag into the race because it would lead to a divisive primary race for Inslee.

The trouble is, you just can't argue that Sonntag (or anyone) is a strong Democratic statewide candidate without significant Seattle/King County support. If Brian slipped through a primary against McKenna, it would essentially be a Republican vs. Republican final and McKenna would win easily as KC Democrats sat on their hands. If Sonntag got through against Inslee, he would essentially be the Republican candidate, minus much of the Republican money.

One thing is certain to any well-informed observer: There is no way Sonntag could win in November. So why would he bother running?

Mannix

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Bluelight, why don't we just have candidates supported by the oligarchy run by white males? Who influences your life more? Big banks, big insurance companies,big pharmaceutical companies, big media companies, big unions or the Indian tribes?

rerickson

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

I think this is a very good (and I have to say, unexpected) analysis by Carlson. As a fan of Crosscut, I believe this is exactly the kind of strong opinion writing that the site needs more of if it is to thrive.

matassa

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

During his last campaign, Jay Inslee took money from:

Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians; Palm Springs CA
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians; Roseburg, OR
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe; Sequim, WA
Lummi Nation; Bellingham, WA
Mashantucket Pequot Tribe; Mashantucket, CT
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; Philadelphia, MS
Morongo Band of Mission Indians; Cabazon, CA
NIGA Sovereignty PAC; Washington D.C.
Pechanga Band of Mission Indians; Temecula, CA
Poarch Band of Creek Indians; Atmore, AL
Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe; Kingstofn, WA
Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan; Mt. Pleasant, MI
Salt River Pima Maricopa Tribe; Scottsdale, AZ
San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians; Highland, CA
Spokane Tribe; Wellpinit, WA
Suquamish Indian Tribe; Suquamish, WA
Swinomish Tribe; LaConner, WA
Tulalip Tribe; Marysville, WA
Upper Skagit Tribe; Sedro Wooley, WA

I want the next governor of Washington to represent Washington's citizens, not sovereign nations. Crosscut, you have deleted this comment thrice. Why?

Woofer, a "journal aspiring to be taken seriously" does not censor those they disagree with.

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Jun 30, 3:58 p.m. Inappropriate

"His major drawback is the “R” next to his name "

That would also be the "R" for "Rob" as in the "Rob McKenna" who spoke out against Gay Marriage to the Seattle Times.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/dannywestneat/2015320752_danny15.html

Another deal killer for the Liberal part of the state. Guy's toast.

GaryP

Posted Fri, Jul 1, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

GaryP - Pres Obama also expressed opposition to gay marriage. Is that a "deal killer" for him with the state's liberals?

PJS

Posted Mon, Jul 4, 3:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Pres Obama has disappointed progressives across the country. So in the primary you can count on me voting against him. Come Nov, and if he's the candidate running against a Tea Party Rep. and well, I'll as usual hold my nose and vote democratic. However he has a long way between now and Nov to make it.

GaryP

Posted Mon, Jul 4, 11:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Bluelight, your constant comments about Indian tribes are nothing short of racist. Maybe that's why they sometimes get deleted.

sarah90

Posted Tue, Jul 5, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

How is it racist to list campaign contributions, Sarah90? I think people like you, quick to call names when discussions get uncomfortable, are the true racists in our society. You and your ilk play - and profit - from the identity politics of status quo separation. You, Sarah90, are a racist.

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Jul 6, 3:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Blue Light,

If you discount all candidates who have received tribal support, then you had better think twice about McKenna, too. In 2008 he received contributions from the Tulalip Tribe, the Swinomish Tribe, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, the Spokane Tribe and the Yakama Nation.

Your anti-Native American rants are racist and tiresome. I'm am not at all surprised that your more extreme comments are deleted.

quiller

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