I'm not sure why anyone would want to be governor right now, but in Washington we're lucky that the 2012 gubernatorial race is shaping up as a battle between at least two quality candidates. Are the worst of times bringing out our best people? Let's hope so.
Ideologies aside, Attorney General Rob McKenna, the Republican, and Congressman Jay Inslee, the Democrat, are experienced, smart, and decent men. There will be a lot of money spent convincing the voters otherwise. Conservative commentator John Carlson estimates that it will be a $45 or $50 million race, a good thing for Carlson's KOMO and every other radio and TV station in the state. Want to boost the local economy? Drain the PACs of money pitching sleazy campaign ads. It's toxic, but it pays.
Political bases will need to be mobilized. The Republicans will try to spin (well, they already have) Inslee as Jim McDermott-lite. The Democrats will position McKenna as a gay- and health-care-hating right-winger. But the real race is more likely to occur in the battle for the middle.
The top two candidates have not yet been picked, and there could be other major candidates in the primary mix. But Inslee and McKenna are looking beyond the primary to the general, as evidenced by their announcements. As has been noted, both played against type a little bit.
McKenna came out as wanting to dramatically boost education spending, especially in higher-ed, by billions of dollars. This will be music to the ears of education boosters, especially the business community, which wants a strong University of Washington, a key part of the state's economic engine. The system is already seeing huge tuition increases, and struggling with some realities. King County, for example, only produces only 25 percent of its own college graduates.
That we still have a large percentage of grads here is a testament to our ability to import them from elsewhere. Washington remains near the bottom of states producing own homegrown bachelor's degrees. Such a stand shows that McKenna is no anti-government Tea Partier, no Ron or Rand Paul libertarian out to privatize everything, even if he thinks he can do this without raising taxes (good luck with that).
In Inslee's campaign announcement he came out strong with a pro-business pitch. He said, essentially, that he would do just about anything to keep and attract business and jobs for Washington, indicating a full willingness to engage in dog-eat-dog competition with other states. He also made the suggestion that small slice of state workers pension funds could be invested in innovative local start-ups, a somewhat surprising stance for a Democrat who doesn't want to see Social Security privatized. (McKenna has already pooh-poohed the idea.) Isn't part of the argument against privatization to protect pensions from Wall Street and high-risk ventures?
Still, it's an important statement to funders that Inslee is a pro-business Democrat. He's also said he opposes the income tax, and while he hasn't ruled out closing loopholes, so far there is no populist emphasis on eliminating subsidies or tax favors for big businesses. Indeed, if you're going to compete for business with other states, these are the tools in your arsenal. They're how you "wheedle and cajole."
The reason for these counter-type declarations is to get people to take another look at the candidates beyond the labels because success will lie in snagging as many independents as possible. The race will come down to how well Inslee and McKenna do in Pugetopolis' populous counties, and where swing voters go. King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties will be key, as will vote margins. McKenna would like to do, at the very worst worst, at least a 134 votes better than Dino Rossi did in 2004.
Inslee, who has the rare distinction of having served in Congress representing both sides of the Cascade Curtain, has at least some chance of picking up votes in central Washington and doing well in Spokane and Whitman counties. Unlike many gubernatorial candidates, he's not an utter stranger to the issues and landscape of Eastern Washington. He even served in the state house representing the Yakima area.
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