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Thursday, October 15, 2009

LIVE from KCTS Studios: The first televised King County Executive debate

Democrat Dow Constantine squares off tonight against his "nonpartisan" opponent for King County executive, Susan Hutchison, in the race's first televised debate. The two candidates are in the final stretch of their battle for county’s top office, and ballots are already hitting mailboxes. Every minute and every debate counts.

The debate starts at 7 PM on KCTS 9, KUOW and KPLU, and is moderated by KCTS 9’s Enrique Cerna. The questions posed by journalists cover issues such as the $56 million budget deficit, transportation, growth and crime.

For the next hour, we'll be bringing you live coverage of the proceedings. Enrique Cerna is introducing the candidates and explaining the format now.

Here we go!

OPENING STATEMENTS: Dow came out swinging with a reminder to the audience that Hutchison has donated to Mike Huckabee and Dino Rossi and doesn't support a woman's right to choose. In her opening statement, Susan tried to turn the conversation to the budget and away from Dow's accomplishments.

WHY SERVE? There is a contrast between the candidate's motivations for running. Dow explained that he was raised locally to serve the community and has dedicated his life to solving problems through his work in the Legislature and County Council. Susan said that she was repeatedly asked to enter politics and felt like this was the time to jump in. In other words, Constantine's motivations come from within and Hutchison's come from without.

GREEN RIVER FLOODING: Susan said she is "very very concerned" that the county hasn't done emergency work to build up the levies to avert disaster. Dow said he is proud of our levy system and the cooperation between the entities working to shore up the levies. "We are doing everything possible at the state, federal and local level to avert this disaster," Constantine declared.

COUNTY JAIL TAKEOVER: Susan proposed Wednesday to transfer authority over the jail to Sheriff Sue Rahr. Dow wants a "data driven" decision based on costs and impacts on public safety, and noted that under his leadership he decreased the budget by over $3 million while increasing public safety.

DEALING WITH A REDUCED BUDGET: Susan picked on the County Council and said she would like to reduce its size as part of her generalized plan to cut waste. No specifics were offered. Dow said he wants wants employees to be a part of the solution so he cosponsored legislation providing protection to whistleblowers. He also observed that he immediately implemented a hiring freeze when he became County Council Chair.

PDC COMPLAINTS: Dow said he isn't concerned about the PDC complaints against himself but views Hutchison's eighty one possible infractions of campaign finance law as very serious. Susan said she considers them "gamesmanship" and defended her use of a home as a campaign office as atypical in campaigns. She danced around the real issue, which was that she has failed to report her use of it as required by public disclosure laws.

Hutchison claims not be tied to a party but supports "people like herself." That is not a description that I would feel comfortable with if I supported Dino Rossi and Mike Huckabee and had given money to the uber-conservative Building Industry Association of Washington, like Hutchison has.

Constantine assailed Hutchison for promoting the work of the Washington Policy Center. The WPC is a conservative think tank founded by John Carlson whose "scientific research" arm considers work to combat the climate crisis to be "hysteria" (because what does the scientific community know anyway?)

PUBLIC HEALTH: To better fund the public health system, Susan wants to put a levy proposal before voters. Dow pointed out the contradiction in her position. Hutchison is proposing to ask voters to raise taxes, while at the same time saying she doesn't support raising taxes. Instead, of raising taxes, Dow said he wants to work with the Legislature to get stable funding for the county. Dow is a believer in a progressive tax system that is less dependent on the sales tax.

Constantine made an effort to shake off Hutchison's derisive claim that he has presided over a "budget mess" with examples of the cost cutting and efficiencies he has implemented, such as a hiring freeze, performance measures and better accountability and transparency within county government.

CLOSING REMARKS: Dow reminded us that he is fighting groups that are suing to keep light rail from reaching the Eastside and will continue to protect the environment.

Susan tried to compare her experience balancing the Seattle Symphony budget with Constantine's background as a vice-chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee and as a part of the King County council for over seven years.

It is hard for her to cobble together a credible background that makes her qualified to be a leader of an organization the size of King County.

Watching her performances over time reveals her lack of new ideas and her repackaging of phrases from event to event. And of course we were treated to more than one anecdote featuring nameless county workers and bus drivers with non-specific details and unproven allegations of waste in government.

Dow created a strong contrast by his obvious fluency on King County issues and detailed examples of concrete accomplishments.

With increased media coverage of the race, voters should become more aware that Susan Hutchison leans heavily to the right and that by hiding behind a "nonpartisan nonpolitician" label, she obscures her true values.

Dow Constantine has been a Democrat from practically conception, so voters can be sure of what he believes and what he will fight for as Executive.


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