At the close of last night's gubernatorial debate, both candidates—Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna—were given the opportunity to ask each other two questions.
McKenna asked Inslee: 1) If there were any policies of incumbent Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire that he would change and 2) Why he thought the two-thirds rule to raise taxes wasn't democratic.
In answer to the first question, Inslee said he would find efficiencies and push preventive care; McKenna noted that Gregoire has already put outcome-based management (AKA the "Lean" strategy) in place. In response to the second question, Inslee said, "It is difficult for me to abide by a situation where some citizens (i.e., anti-tax Eastern Washington voters) have more electoral power than others."
For his first question, Inslee asked McKenna if he would—as Inslee and President Obama have done, and Mitt Romney has not—release his tax returns.
McKenna scoffed, "I'm just not going to play this game" and said he wouldn't.
But it's Inslee's second question that I want to focus on.
Inslee asked what commitments McKenna had made to the Republican Governors Association, which has contributed $4 million to McKenna, that got the head of the RGA, Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (who Inslee first called "Bob McDowell" and then "Gov. McDonald"), to enthusiastically tell a roomful of Washington State delegates at the Republican National Convention that McKenna would do in Washington State what controversial Gov. Scott Walker had done in Wisconsin.
The Democrats had been sending out breathless press releases to reporters pushing this Walker angle ever since Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner wrote about McDonnell/McDowell/McDonald's comments from Tampa. McDonnell's comments were certainly newsworthy and Brunner's post was good grist from the Republican convention.
But for the Democrats to jump on McDonnell's comment as if it proved the theme they've been hollering about all year—that McKenna is more conservative than he lets on—is a reach. There's no substance to it. It's guilt by third-degree association. [pullquote]"I support collective bargaining rights for our public employees and will continue to support them when elected governor of this state."—Rob McKenna[/pullquote]
I asked McKenna what he thought about the Walker comparison yesterday, and he told me: "Simply read what Gov. McDonnell actually said in order to understand what really has Congressman Inslee and his allies so upset—that I would balance the budget without raising taxes and bring jobs back to the state."
And here's what he said to Inslee (after first correcting Inslee on his two mispronunciations), in what I thought was the bitchiest and best answer of last night's debate:
"If you actually read what he said and not your own press release ... the governor of Wisconsin said he was going to balance the budget without tax increases, and did so; said he was going to restore solvency to local governments by making government employees pay their first ever share of health care, and did so; and was rewarded for those fiscal successes by being retained in that recall election by a higher percentage of the vote than originally put him into office.
"That's what Bob McDonnell was talking about. Bob understands that our state is different than Wisconsin, and he knows that unlike Governor Walker, I support collective bargaining rights for our public employees and will continue to support them when elected governor of this state."
There is a footnote on Wisconsin's "fiscal success," though:
The latest data shows Wisconsin ranks 41st out of the 50 states in job growth (Washington State ranked 16th). And between March 2011 and March 2012, Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state in the union.
There's also a footnote on McKenna's "first ever" claim about Gov. Walker making public employees pay a share of their health care.
PolitiFact busted Walker for making this claim in one of his TV spots:
Claim: "Because public employees now contribute to their health and pension benefits, we were able to put more money back into the classroom, increase funding for health care for our seniors, and keep thousands of firefighters, police officers, and teachers on the job."
We’ll save most of that for another day, but there is an important note:
The first phrase -- "now contribute" -- suggests public employees were not already contributing toward their pension and health benefits before Walker’s budget. In fact, almost all were paying a share of health-insurance premiums. And many already were giving part of their pay to both pension and health -- just not nearly as much as Walker’s budget required.
Most state employees were paying a share of health insurance premiums that was far below the national average, we found in February 2011.