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    What's really going on in the governor's race?

    Rob McKenna has tried to solve the puzzle of a Republican winning in a Democratic state, but Jay Inslee has deftly slipped the punches. The result has been a bland race, avoiding the tough issues while talking about "painless change."
    Jay Inslee, left, and Rob McKenna at a debate.

    Jay Inslee, left, and Rob McKenna at a debate. State of Reform

    Political campaigns are exercises in obfuscation: avoiding topics that annoy the base or don’t poll well, signaling (with escape clauses) to donor groups, avoiding specifics that would bestir sleeping pit bulls or produce massive retaliation. Herewith, one attempt at penetrating the fog in this fascinating, very-close governor’s race.

    Democrat Jay Inslee is running as the incumbent. He never mentions Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is unpopular. But he is essentially running a Rose Garden campaign, hoping to preserve the strengths of the Democratic coalition that backed Gregoire and cleared the way for Inslee to have no primary opponent and to get lots of national cash for his race. Components: public employee and teacher unions, greens, social services, tribes, trial lawyers, the rail transit coalition, minorities, military contractors, the research-based part of the economy, and some Seattle-oriented progressive and lifestyle issues (gay marriage, density). Aside from some mild heresies on teacher accountability, Inslee does little to ruffle the feathers of these groups. This is smart politics, I guess, but it obscures the rather disruptive, mildly leftish Inslee.

    Inslee’s stance intensifies the plight of long-in-command liberalism — it’s essentially preservationist, wary of reform, thin gruel for independents and impatient young people. It reminds me of Lord Salisbury’s famous quip a century ago, as Britain faced the facts of its decline from global dominance: “Whatever happens will be for the worse. Therefore it is our interest that as little should happen as possible.”

    Accordingly, Inslee is running as the status quo candidate. He says he wouldn’t raise taxes, for instance, though even the tax-averse Gregoire has edged toward the need for more taxes. He wouldn’t favor charter schools, though he’d encourage experimentation at some public schools. He needs more “studies” before deciding on the coal port issue. All very soothing to those vested in the long consensus in Olympia and the state (big labor, big government, big business).

    As to what the actual Gov. Inslee would do, that would be quite different: the greenest governor in the nation, a strong advocate for more light rail, an active recruiter of green-tech and other new-economy businesses, maybe the first governor in a long time who actually understands Seattle issues. Temperamentally, Inslee is far from the status-quo figure depicted on the campaign trail. But he is a new-initiatives guy, not a reform guy, so he'll have a hard time finding the money for the things he wants to do.

    Governors need to be excellent COOs (chief operating officers), but voters want a charismatic CEO. The election of Obama and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn illustrate where the voters gravitate (and then un-gravitate). Yet the job at hand is largely one of rolling up sleeves to make the money-starved and bloated systems of government work better.

    Republican candidate Rob McKenna both gets the new realities of austerity and has the wonkish love of details to suggest he’d be a good COO.  Inslee is a classic short-attention-span improviser and placater, not a hard-choices manager.

    McKenna’s chief problem, like Romney’s, is trust: Who is this guy? While Romney morphed from being a moderate pragmatist like his father to movement conservative (until last week), McKenna began as a conservative libertarian dissenter in King County politics and has morphed into a “Northwest Republican.” But which one would we get if we elected him?

    The attorney general doesn’t help his case by his lawyerly evasions on some hot issues, such as expanding light rail, gay marriage, and abortion. McKenna doesn’t hide his dissenting views from conventional progressive stances, but he says he “respects the will of the voters.” (Also, apparently, the will of the Supreme Court on Obamacare.) Like a good lawyer, as he is, he implements and defends the judgments of his clients, even if his personal views differ. Not very leader-like, and it begs the question of what he’d do as these issues come up in the future (expanding light rail, making abortions more difficult to get). If for Inslee the key question is “Is he up to the job?” for McKenna, it’s “Can you trust him?”

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    Posted Tue, Oct 16, 7:43 a.m. Inappropriate

    This is a really good summary of the race, and a good explanation of why this suburban tech small business owner is ambivalent about the two candidates.

    Posted Tue, Oct 16, 8:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    Apparently the Editorial Boards across the state are not divided about who should be the next Governor.



    Posted Tue, Oct 16, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    What's actually happening is that voters do not share David Brewster's values. That's a difficult thing for him to admit, but it's the truth. Most Washingtonians are quite happy with their Democratic Party, and there is no evidence at all that the majority wants the kind of slash-and-burn "reforms" that Brewster wants. He's literally having a different conversation than the ones that occur around most kitchen tables in this state.

    That doesn't mean voters are happy with the status quo. But the changes they want to see aren't the same changes Brewster wants to see. They know that the existing institutions actually would work just fine if they were properly funded. Their focus isn't some highly ideological "reform" agenda but a more simple agenda of finding a way to get the revenue needed so our schools and our transportation systems work again. Brewster thinks the top political challenge is "reform" when in fact the top political challenge is getting support for an income tax from 40% to 51%.

    Brewster thinks voters dislike unions, but the evidence from the August primaries shows they don't. Brewster thinks voters want a smaller government, but the evidence from the polls and again from the ballots show they don't.

    Finally, Brewster doesn't have any evidence to back up his claims about what a new coalition might look like. Tech workers aren't as libertarian as he thinks. Latinos care about "family values" but across the country their voting profile is that of a traditional liberal. Young voters want Social Security and they want Medicare for everyone; the last thing they want is benefit cuts. And Brewster shows his total lack of understanding of modern American politics by assuming the GOP might somehow reverse its rightward course, without realizing that the realities of the right's base and especially its funding sources absolutely forbid any such thing from happening.

    There's something happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Brewster?


    Posted Tue, Oct 16, 11 a.m. Inappropriate

    Compliments to David Brewster for an excellent analysis. I don't see his "values" but rather his analysis. And it is excellent.

    As a Democrat who will cross party lines to vote for the person, I have a dilemma.

    I begin with a bias: one party control of the Governor's Office for 28 years is not healthy. The "usual suspects" ---stakeholders --- take things for granted. Many are good people who are right on the issues. But they have become too powerful and too used to getting their way. Inslee's election would mean this continues.

    On the issues, Inslee's "grow the economy with green jobs" sounds good, and is politically correct. But it hasn't worked, and won't work. Our economy recovers along with the rest of the country. And his opposition to charter schools is extremely disappointing. Finally, he is not a CEO. He is a policy guy. And no disrespect to policy guys: We need them, especially in Congress.

    Rob McKenna knows Olympia and how to manage government. He is stronger on education issues, more realistic on the economy, and a change in one party control ---- a new set of "usual suspects" -- would provide some needed balance.

    But Rob's "usual suspects" are tied to an increasingly tea-party oriented Republican party, and pose greater risks than Jay's. In a more moderate centered Republican party, the decision would be much easier. But those who would hold positions of influence in a McKenna Administration make what would otherwise be a vote for the Attorney General much more difficult.

    Posted Tue, Oct 16, 1:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Most Washingtonians are quite happy with their Democratic Party" Really? Aren't most of the polls within the margin of error? Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Four More Years of Gregoire...which is exactly what electing Jay Inslee would be. Lacking any visible leadership skills Inslee would be a puppet of the Legislature and just go along for the ride, just like in Congress.


    Posted Tue, Oct 16, 5 p.m. Inappropriate

    If McKenna is really saying "cut DSHS, spend the money on education" he is handing us a stark and elemental choice; do we spend on future generations or on the halt and the lame? what am I missing here? the question answers itself.


    Posted Tue, Oct 16, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    Well he could start by not spending Millions of Dollars a year via DSHS on Financially ineligible people and Illegal aliens AKA "undocumented people". The State Auditor has had findings against DSHS for doing just that for over a decade. It kind of makes you wonder why the current Governor and Democrat majority in the Legislature isn't doing something to correct the situation...doesn't it. That question doesn't answer itself.


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