Published October 27, 2012
Inslee embraces national issues; McKenna takes different pathBRAD SHANNON
On a Saturday morning in Tacoma this month, Democrat Jay Inslee reminded a union hall crammed full of workers there is a tall crane on the Tacoma Tideflats with a 100-foot banner that reads, “Inslee for Jobs.” “I’m that Jay Inslee,” he said to the 200 labor volunteers, who were getting ready for a day of doorbelling for Democrats. “We need a governor that’s going to get up every single morning in the next four years doing everything under the sun to get jobs for the state of Washington. I intend to be that governor.” A week later, Inslee’s Republican counterpart, Attorney General Rob McKenna, cast the race in a different light, telling minority groups gathering in south Seattle that the issue is more than whether people are better off today than four years ago. “I think the answer to that is pretty clearly no. The question to ask then is, ‘Will you be better off four years from now if you put the same people in charge who have been running state government for 28 years?’” McKenna said. “A lot of thoughtful people have considered that question and they’ve concluded that what we need is change in direction. We need to put new people in charge in order to get the change we need in state government.’’ As Inslee and McKenna near the home stretch of their campaigns for governor, Inslee is sticking to big, overarching themes – highlighted by tax incentives for clean-energy jobs, health care reform, and other ideas that are in many ways similar to the agenda of President Barack Obama, whom polls show is popular in this state. In contrast, McKenna is steering clear of national political themes, avoiding associations with the GOP ticket that is not likely to do well in the Evergreen State on Nov. 6. Instead, McKenna paints himself as a pragmatist who sued to overturn two elements of federal health reform but agrees with other pieces. And he talks about nearly three decades of Democratic control of the Governor’s Office, chronic state budget deficits, relatively low state investment in public schools, and even his support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion. MOBILIZING VOTERS With ballots already out, the last of five debates behind the candidates and polls showing the race is a toss-up, both campaigns have been shifting gears to getting out the vote – with each side believing it is the key to victory in a state that trends Democratic. The candidates also are fanning out across the state. McKenna’s bus tour begins today with a late-afternoon stop in Aberdeen and Monday stops in Shelton, Olympia and Centralia. Inslee was scheduled to visit a manufacturing facility Saturday in south Seattle, and he joins Gov. Chris Gregoire and several other Democrats at the reopening of Grays Harbor Paper on Monday in Hoquiam. Inslee also has been cheering on teams of door-to-door volunteers in several communities, including major “Labor Neighbor” efforts the past two weekends and other efforts by Washington Conservation Voters. “This is a very, very, very tight race,” Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, told several hundred union activists in Tacoma this month before unleashing as many as 500 people for a door-to-door effort in five cities. “We are knocking the doors down. This week we had 179 people on the phones.’’ THE DOOR KNOCKERS “The reason I’m voting for him is I don’t want privatizing in our government,” volunteer Phyllis Cherry, who works for the state Department of Corrections, said before going out to campaign. Cherry said she worries that handing state jobs to the private sector would take away health care coverage. “It’s about jobs. Family-wage jobs,” added machinist Jerry Selman of Graham. Later, speaking to a reporter as he traveled between events, Inslee said he is open to considering the privatization of some state functions. But he said he thinks any economic advantage in doing that will be reduced once the federal Affordable Care Act is put in place in 2014. That is because more businesses will have to provide health care coverage for workers, eliminating the advantage they now enjoy in bidding. Inslee’s get-out-the-vote effort also is relying on environmentalists. The Washington Conservation Voters led a major door-to-door effort in five cities in the month, including Issaquah, Bellingham and Olympia. The conservation group is an affiliate of the national League of Conservation Voters that endorsed Inslee – making him the league’s first gubernatorial endorsement in at least 30 years, as Inslee told about 60 volunteer doorbellers in Issaquah. Striking a down-home tone, Inslee told a story about one of his favorite films. The home movie shows his wife catching a salmon in Puget Sound’s Shilshole Bay in the 1960s. Nodding to two little girls – daughters of state Senate candidate Mark Mullet – Inslee said he wants to be sure that the girls’ seventh-generation descendants have the same chance. Len Barson, board chairman for Conservation Voters, said the group was backing Inslee because of his long-standing commitment to protecting the environment. “It’s not something he picked up the other day. … We have to support someone who will be the greenest governor in the country.’’ Geoff Ringwald, who works at Microsoft and was volunteering to go door-to-door, said he doesn’t see much difference between McKenna or Inslee except on the environment. He laid no knocks on McKenna, but said he was motivated to work for Inslee because he trusts him more – particularly on the coal-export facilities issue for which both candidates say they want to see full environmental reviews. “If the issue comes up or there is a role for the governor, I trust Jay Inslee and I don’t trust Rob McKenna,” Ringwald said. McKenna chafes at the notion he can’t be trusted and cites his fights to rein in a Canadian mine operator whose slag was polluting across the border into Lake Roosevelt and to get the federal government to clean up Hanford. ‘CRUNCH TIME’ McKenna has been trying to match Democrats’ get-out-the-vote efforts, and he launched a major phone-bank effort in 16 cities last weekend. “I really think my race will be decided by who has the better get-out-the-vote program,” McKenna told one phone bank group. And in Federal Way, he told another group of campaign volunteers: “It’s crunch time. … You need to identify 10 of your friends who are undecided or maybe not voting. You need to bring them over.’’ At an event on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, 16 people crowded into the home of independent voter Judy Yu, where one of the “Democrats for Rob” was McKenna’s mother-in-law. The group made hundreds of calls to voters who had been identified as on the fence or likely not to vote. Yu, a former trustee at Central Washington University and who worked as a campaign volunteer with a group that backed Democratic Gov. Gary Locke in 1996, said she likes McKenna’s approach to education and his call to reduce business regulations. She said she considers him a pragmatic leader who is pro-choice on abortion rights, and she is getting irritated by ads that question whether McKenna can be trusted on women’s health. “I don’t have no evidence he would do anything to limit a woman’s right to choose,” Yu said. “I don’t like the way it’s being portrayed. It doesn’t represent Rob at all.’’ Another McKenna supporter making calls that day was Merisa Heu-Weller, a Seattle attorney who grew up in Olympia and whose parents were state agency directors and, like her, are Democrats. Although she’d heard from Democratic lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office who told her McKenna was “the best manager they have had,” it was only after she heard him speak passionately about closing the achievement gap for minority students that she made her decision. McKenna favors merit pay for teachers as well as higher pay for those who teach in difficult schools. And he often talks about kids dropping out. “Kids of color are being left behind. … Shame on us,’’ Heu-Weller said, repeating McKenna’s frequent mention that Washington ranks No. 46 in spending on students. “For me that hits home more than it ever has. We have two kids – a second-grader and a preschooler. I don’t have time to see if it will work out’’ under Inslee. At the minority groups’ forum a week ago, McKenna also talked about his plan to earmark a larger share of the state budget for K-12 education, getting some applause. “You want the public schools fixed? You want someone to dig in? … That’s the guy,” Lacey businessman Nat Jackson said, nodding to McKenna at the forum. Inslee favors grants for innovative schools and says he is voting against Initiative 1240, the charter schools measure that McKenna supports. Backed by the Washington Education Association, Inslee favors mentor teachers but also tougher scrutiny of teachers; he wants schools to take student performance into account when grading teachers and to use the evaluations to decide who is laid off, fired or hired. Gregoire has faulted both candidates’ plans to fully fund public schools, arguing that to meet a Supreme Court order to find reliable funding, a new tax source will be needed. But neither candidate has been willing to admit his math doesn’t add up.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688