This Washington

Is McKenna Really a Dan Evans Republican?

By Josh Feit June 11, 2011

Rob McKenna gets an enthusiastic endorsement from the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, standard bearers of the moderate pre-Tea Party GOP. Are McKenna's social views moderate?

Calling their early endorsement "unprecedented," the moderate Mainstream Republicans of Washington unanimously endorsed Rob McKenna on Friday, just two days after McKenna's announcement that he's running for governor.

Mainstream Republicans Executive Director Alex Hays told me that while Dino Rossi, whom they also endorsed, was a "good fit," McKenna "is our ideal candidate." (The Rossi endorsement takes a little weight out of the Mainstream Republican's "mainstream" cred. Rossi was more of a fit with Rick Santorum on social issues, failing, for example, to simply say he'd support repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell last year, even if the Department of Defense decided to end the policy.)

But the quote that actually jumped out at me was in Hays' press release. Amping up their McKenna endorsement, the press release stated:
For years we’ve called ourselves Dan Evans Republicans, starting today we can call ourselves Rob McKenna Republicans.”

Dan Evans, of course, is Washington State's iconic three-term Republican governor (1965-1977) and U.S. senator (1983-89). Evans was what's traditionally known as a "Rockefeller Republican" from the pre-Reagan era when socially moderate, fiscally conservative, Harvard-type Republicans differentiated themselves from the populist Republicans who've morphed into today's NASCAR dads and Sarah Palin moms.

Using a Dan Evans stamp to disassociate himself from the NASCAR wing of the party (though McKenna did forcefully endorse anti-gay rights, Tea Party candidates such as John Koster) could be powerful stuff.

McKenna, a wonky U. Chicago Law grad who grew up—and still lives—in upscale Bellevue, does appear to fit the Rockefeller Republican mold. And his focus on funding education (and reforming it Obama-style) and tight state budgeting are more Mitch Daniels  than Michele Bachmann.

But moderate on social issues? Really? What about his stands on a woman's right to chose ("vague," says NARAL) and gay marriage  ("atrocious," says gay rights group Equal Rights Washington)?

"That's absolutely false," Hays said, defending McKenna from charges that he's anti-choice. "That's a straight up lie. He has clearly stated repeatedly he's pro-choice."

McKenna told Seattle Times columnist Joni Balter this week:
The law made by voters says women have a choice. I believe life begins at conception, but there are two lives, the woman's and the baby's. Our state has been very clear that women should have the right to choose. I hope she chooses the child. But the point is it's her choice.

Hays summarizes: "He supports the status quo."

Sorta. McKenna actually backed away from the status quo on another issue involving women's reproductive rights. As PubliCola first reported last summer, McKenna's office decided to go for a settlement in the emergency contraception case rather than defend the state's standing rules guaranteeing access. (The rules eventually stuck, but bailing on the court case at the request of the socially conservative pharmacist plaintiffs undercut earlier favorable court decisions, put the rules at risk by sending them back to the pharmacy board for revisions, and sacrificed the chance to dip guaranteed access in the amber of a court ruling.)

Hays also acknowledged that McKenna was for parental notification, but said, "that standard is no different than any other medical procedure."

As for same-sex marriage, McKenna told KUOW this morning that his position was no different than President Obama's or Christine Gregoire's (that'd be against it). "I don't support same-sex marriage, but I do support civil rights for same-sex partners ... I think the public clearly supports those sort of domestic partnership rights, and that's why they approved the referendum upholding our state's recently adopted [domestic partners] law."

McKenna, who is Catholic, says "in the religious context" he believes that "marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman" and that if the state approved same sex marriage "there would start to be pressure on religious organizations to permit it as well." [pullquote]Rep. Jamie Pedersen's historic gay parenting law makes McKenna's statements about families and reproduction of children a bit outdated.[/pullquote]

McKenna added that he agreed with the 2006 Washington State Supreme Court decision that said there was a compelling state interest in keeping marriage between a man and a woman: "It has to do with families, it has to do with reproduction of children, it has to do with stability of society.  To say there's no compelling state interest in regulating marriage, I think is false. So, the people who say there isn't one are wrong about that."

Of course, gay couples were having---babies already. And Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill), the gay state legislator who passed the series of domestic partnerships laws that McKenna says he supports, also passed a parenting law this year making it easier for same-sex couples (and infertile opposite-sex couples) to be legal parents of a child. Pedersen's historic law makes McKenna's statements about families and reproduction of children even more outdated.

After the law passed this session, Pedersen told PubliCola: “This makes our parentage law match with the current reality of Washington’s families. It recognizes that children are being born to same-sex couples and different-sex couples through assisted reproduction and that traditional genetic based rules don’t work for everyone.”

Hays notes that the Mainstream Republicans have two gay board members, Herb Krohn and Kirk Robbins. Krohn is also on Equal Rights Washington's Board. "That shows you our sincerity on this issue," says Hays.

The Mainstream Republicans aren't the only ones who reacted quickly to McKenna's announcement. Planned Parenthood also issued an immediate press release:
Last night Attorney General Rob McKenna made official his intention to run for Governor of Washington State in 2012. Also yesterday was the first day of oral arguments on the multi-state lawsuit McKenna joined to block the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform bill that provides reforms essential to women’s health.

The Affordable Care Act will protect 105,000 Washington residents with pre-existing conditions who will be guaranteed coverage, protect women against gender discrimination by private insurers, and it will allow the over 100,000 women in the state of Washington in need of improved access to family planning services the ability to get the care they need, including cervical and breast cancer screenings and contraception.

“Health care reform is critical to women across Washington; in these tough economic times, women are more in need than ever of quality, affordable health care services,” said Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes Washington.

“The office of Governor has a huge impact on women’s access to health care,” said Dana Laurent, Political Director for Planned Parenthood Votes Washington. “As an advocate for women and families of Washington State, we intend to ask all the candidates what they will do to ensure women’s health and rights are protected.”
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