It was a good night for the Democrats: President Obama got off the sound bite of the debate, neatly boiling down Mitt Romney's secretive budget plan to a "sketchy deal"; moderator Candy Crowley stepped in with the now-famous "He did, in fact sir" correction of Romney's misfire on Obama's statement about Benghazi, Libya; and Obama got to close the night—perfectly set up by a clumsy Romney—by slamming Romney's odious 47 percent rap.
As for this Washington, the Democratic candidate for governor, Jay Inslee, turned in his best debate performance yet, besting his Republican opponent Rob McKenna for the first time. This was the pair's fifth debate and typically, we think, the brainy McKenna has owned Inslee. Not so in this important final round.
Inslee's best moment came when moderator Jean Enersen asked each candidate to ask the other a question. At first, McKenna looked like he was going to skewer Inslee, getting off an embarrassing question: Why had every newspaper in the state endorsed McKenna?
Typically, we think, the brainy McKenna has owned Inslee. Not so in this important final round.
But Inslee pivoted expertly, saying he worked for the people not the newspapers and—shifting back to his catchy criticism of McKenna—that the people didn't like McKenna's plan to raise property taxes to pay for schools. Then he pivoted again, hyping his "independent voice" and citing his (now-validated) vote against the Iraq war, which also hadn't been popular with editorial boards. Ditto his votes against bailing out Wall Street. He ended with a joke that he "even reads them [newspapers] once in a while."
And then things got worse for McKenna. He said the property tax proposal wasn't his proposal—a claim he'd made earlier in the debate as well.
We've repeatedly criticized Inslee for his disingenuous campaign tactic on the property tax swap proposal, but McKenna was way out of bounds this time.
McKenna's dodge that A) the details of the property tax swap aren't known (i.e., maybe taxes wouldn't increase) and his claim B) that "it's not my proposal, it's a proposal from the Democratic budget writer in the state house" are misleading and off base.
The details are known. There are two proposals: One from Republican state Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-18), that would add $800 million to the state ledger for education, and the other, from Democratic ways and means chair Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48), that would add $1 billion.
McKenna, in fact, proposed the $800 million Zarelli version—with loads of details. Indeed, he handed out a color-coded spreadsheet of the proposal to reporters (with footnotes). At the time, I spent an hour on the phone going over the details with McKenna's campaign spokesman, Charles McCray, who referred to the proposal as McKenna's and specifically distinguished it from Hunter's proposal. The McKenna/Zarelli proposal, by Zarelli's own admission, would raise taxes.
Next up: Inslee got to ask McKenna a question. This round went to Inslee as well.
Pivoting expertly (again) on the endorsements question, Inslee noted that Planned Parenthood had endorsed him. Then he asked McKenna what he had done to protect women's access to contraception and a women's right to choose—and women's health care in general. (Footnote here: McKenna has spent a great deal in advertising dollars trying to appeal to women—he knows the Republican brand alienates women, and he himself is trailing Inslee among female voters.)
With this one question, Inslee may have turned McKenna's whole "I'm not one of those Republicans" strategy into a failed sunk cost.
McKenna said he supported the voter mandate in Washington state that guaranteed a right to choose and that he supported women's access to contraception. (He added that his office was defending a pharmacy board rule to guarantee access to Plan B, or emergency contraception.)
As part of the conservative bloc of state Attorneys General who sued to overturn Obamacare, McKenna tried to oveturn rules guaranteeing that contraception would be covered by insurers.
Inslee pounced: As part of the conservative bloc of state Attorneys General who sued to overturn Obamacare, Inslee pointed out, McKenna tried to oveturn rules guaranteeing that contraception would be covered by insurers and rules mandating no co-pays for reproductive health. He also noted that McKenna didn't support state legislation—the Reproductive Parity Act—that would make insurance companies that cover maternity care also cover abortion.
McKenna responded by saying Obamacare wasn't necessary. "The rights of women in our state don't rely on federal law," because voter-approved state law already protected women's access to contraception, he said.
Fact check. McKenna is correct that state law says women have a right to access, but Obamacare would make that a reality rather than an aspiration by covering the costs; again, in Obamacare contraceptives are included as part of the basic package of free preventive services that insurers are required to cover.
Jennifer Brown, spokeswoman for NARAL Pro Choice Washington, told Fizz: "State law guarantees access, but if you can’t pay for it what does the access really mean. The Affordable Care Act's requirement to provide contraception without cost-sharing for ... Washingtonians is a huge step forward in preventing unintended pregnancies."
Brown added, seconding Inslee's larger question about women's health care overall, that Obamacare also helped women by mandating no co-pays on preventive services like pap smears, mammography, and cancer screenings.
Drowning out McKenna's generalities, Inslee concluded by saying he would pass the Reproductive Parity Act: "Unfortunately, our state law does not protect women against discrimination, does not protect a women against co-pays—and the Reproductive Parity Act is important. And when I'm governor we're going to make sure that we pass it."
And a footnote on McKenna's claim about Plan B. Yes, his office is defending the pharmacy board's emergency contraception rule—but as attorney general, his office is required to. Moreover, to the dismay of women's groups, the AGs office first advised reaching a settlement with religious pharmacists, which would have undercut the rules.