After the state Senate Republicans and three Democrats commandeered the senate floor two Fridays ago and passed a budget that cut education funding, we promptly asked Attorney General Rob McKenna's office and his campaign what McKenna thought of his GOP comrades. After all, McKenna is running for governor on a platform that calls for increasing education funding.
We never heard back from his campaign, but McKenna's spokesman in the AG's office, Dan Sytman, praised the legislators for the deal. He said: "Legislators deserve the credit for reaching across the aisle, finding areas of consensus and passing a budget."
We published the full transcript of our exchange with Sytman under the headline: "'Education Candidate' McKenna praises GOP Budget Despite Lack of Ed Funding."
It was a sexy headline, though it should have said "Budget Deal" to be more accurate. In the accompanying article, I did lay out the cuts to education that were a central part of the budget deal. (The competing senate budget proposal, which McKenna subsequently said shouldn't be part of the talks, left less of an ending fund balance, but fully funded education.)
I went on KCTS last week and when asked about the story, my sound bite (my headline) was clearer. I said: "his office praised the deal."
In the days after I talked to McKenna's office—my story ran on March 5th—the McKenna campaign issued two statements—one on March 6, which we published that day, and another on March 8. Both statements called the budget proposal a "starting point" and said legislators should make education funding a "first priority" and "fund public education first."
McKenna's gubernatorial rivals at the Jay Inslee campaign are now using my headline in their latest YouTube video to bash McKenna for making "empty promises" about education funding. While my shorthand headline came with an article that gave readers the full context, Inslee's video, obviously, does not.
My headline was fair game for the Inslee camp. That's the way politics work. I do wish I'd been clearer in the headline, though. McKenna's spokesman was obviously praising the politics—getting the deal done—not the substance. Though given a clear opportunity to criticize the $73 million in education cuts, a key component of the deal, his office remained weirdly silent when I asked directly about it—thus the "Despite Lack of Ed Funding" line.
The revised proposal from Republican budget leader Sen. Joe Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield), released yesterday restores the education funding and actually adds about $9 million on top of that.
In response, McKenna released the following statement yesterday:
The bipartisan coalition which passed the only budget in the Senate, today put forth a revised proposal, which wisely eliminates any reductions to public schools and higher education spending in the current budget and continues to promote sustainability in future budgets. Unfortunately, there is little indication that the majority controlling the legislative schedule has any interest in returning from vacation long enough to do the work they are paid to do.