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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Constantine, Hutchison sharpen contrast at Executive forum in Kent

Autumn has finally arrived... and with it, frenetic schedules for the two candidates vying to become the next King County Executive: Democrat Dow Constantine and Republican Susan Hutchison.

Earlier tonight, Constantine and Hutchison sparred at a forum in Kent sponsored by the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, which turned out to be an intriguing flash point in a contest that is getting more pointed by the day.

Senator Claudia Kauffman got the event rolling with a South King County welcome and a brief introduction to some of the issues facing cities like Kent, Auburn, and Renton. After waiting for Hutchison to arrive, the discussion got underway, moderated by Enrique Cerna of KCTS 9, who is no stranger to the job.

Hutchison's opening pitch was constructed from the predictable stock introduction she uses almost everywhere she goes: her nonpartisan, nonpolitician schtick. She did add a new spin to it, suggesting her reporting on the Green River Killer case has given her an appreciation for how the criminal justice system works.

(It's amazing what a career in television can do to prepare a person for public service. Hutchison portrays herself as an outsider, but if her workplace had been one of the nation's largest local governments, she would be talking constantly about her experience as Kiro County Council Chair).

Naturally, we were also treated to an undefined vision of change.

Dow introduced himself as the only candidate who represents South King County, and the only person in the race who "really represents anyone." He argued that he has fought to reform King County government and protect basic human rights.

Dow claimed his opponent has little to offer except for "prepackaged soundbites and attacks", adding that he has diligently sought to keep King County shipshape in tough economic times, by instituting performance measures, supporting a hiring freeze in county government, lowering the costs of doing business, and reducing the size of county council staff.

Not to be left off the hiring freeze bandwagon, Hutchison claimed she supported the idea before it was implemented. She said she even called and thanked Kurt Triplett for instituting the freeze. But she did not thank Dow for his role.

Cerna asked Hutchison about her ties to Republicans and conservatives, wanting to know if she had any strategy for wooing progressive votes. Hutchison apparently thinks she doesn't have any work to do because she responded by simply citing poll numbers that show some Democrats and independents supporting her candidacy. She then acknowledged that she has ties to conservative groups, adding, "I just encourage you to not take too seriously what you read in left-wing blogs."

That's rich, especially coming from somebody who was paid to read a teleprompter on weeknights. Yes, we should rely exclusively on the six o'clock news to inform ourselves. Who needs a transcript and full context from an event like this when we can have edited sound bites served up to us in by well meaning producers between advertisements for cars and laundry detergent?

Asked about annexation, Dow pointed to the county's recent efforts to help cities adopt unincorporated urban areas, like the southern part of the North Highline area, which recently voted to join the City of Burien.

Susan remained hesitant about forcing cities to annex unincorporated parts of the County. She focused on what she called the county's "bad reputation" with cities. But she did not explain how she would be a bridge builder. (Perhaps that's because when the going gets tough, Hutchison goes canoeing.)

The topic moved to transportation, and more specifically, transit governance. Hutchison, predictably, said she wants to consolidate all transit organizations under one person to be appointed by the Executive. She then asserted that the ferry district was created so the county can be in the flood district business (which Dow shook his head at and later challenged).

Dow said the ferry district, approved by a near unanimous vote by the county council, was created because the state wanted to get out of the business of providing passenger ferry service to Vashon Island. (It's called passing the buck, and in our statehouse, it happens all the time).

After Hutchison claimed the county wasted millions testing Lake Washington ferry service, Dow quickly responded, saying she was being misleading.

Dow noted that he had worked with his former rival Fred Jarrett to give the county the taxing authority to keep buses rolling, and that he had supported both the Roads & Transit package (which failed) and the successful Sound Transit 2 proposal.

When the conversation turned to dollars and cents, Hutchison issued a lukewarm endorsement of budgeting by referendum, signaling the only time she would support raising revenue is if voters approved a proposition that did so. (Nice to know we've got such a champion for representative democracy).

Dow said he'd push for serious tax reform to shake up the most regressive tax structure in the country. Hutchison made no comment on the validity of an income tax or a conversation about moving towards progressive taxation.

In regards to keeping services, Dow observed that he has released a concrete plan while his opponent has put out nothing. Hutchison passed up an opportunity to offer a detailed pitch for protecting essential services, instead spending her time trying to explain why she doesn't have a plan.

And when it came time to deliver closing statements, Hutchison butressed her prior answers by declaring that America has a citizen run government, even mentioning George Washington. (How original).

Constantine emphasized that voters should ask two questions when selecting a candidate: Who is most able to lead us forward, and who shares our values.

And with that, the forum was over.

I'll update this post later with a transcript of Hutchison's answer on transit governance. All in all, an illuminating discussion.


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