This evening, in front of a friendly crowd at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, and with his family by his side, Rob McKenna announced what we’ve all known for some time: He wants to be governor of Washington State.
In a long, carefully scripted speech, McKenna laid out his agenda, which mostly consisted of a series of poll-tested platitudes designed to appeal to biconceptuals, conservatives, and folks who learn conservative. Notably, he pledged to bolster funding for Washington’s schools and universities, but offered zero specifics as to how he would accomplish that without raising revenue.
We can safely assume that no specifics will ever be forthcoming, because what McKenna wants to do is impossible. The reality that he is ignoring is that there is no free lunch. Public services cost money.
If there was a way to strengthen funding for our schools and universities without raising revenue — even a hard way — it would have been done by now.
It hasn’t.. and that’s because the only way we can solve our school funding crisis is to rebuild our common wealth, which has been battered by a series of destructive Tim Eyman initiatives going back to the Gary Locke era.
As a coauthor of one of those initiatives (I‑747, from 2001), Rob McKenna played a direct role in undercutting our state’s fiscal position. Now he is asking voters to trust him to repair the damage and make things better. It’s as if Phil Gramm were running for president and promising to fix our broken regulatory system.
The idea that there’s all this money available to be redirected to schools and universities is an utter fiction. We could discontinue just about every other essential service the state provides, and we would still not be in a position to fulfill our constitutionally-mandated obligation to the youth of Washington State.
I’m pretty sure that Rob McKenna knows this. I’ve met him. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down across the table from him in his offices and ask him questions. I know he has the ability to look at issues seriously (as opposed to Tim Eyman, who has to be dragged away from his sound bites kicking and screaming).
If Rob were a Democratic politician and he had a credible plan to raise revenue to match his professed fervor for bettering our schools, he’d be seeing overwhelming interest in his campaign from teachers, students, and parents.
But Rob McKenna is a Republican who has aligned himself with the right wing. The right wing does not want strong public schools. In fact, the right wing does not want public schools at all — as evidenced by the many comments we often see on Seattle Times comment boards from grumpy conservatives who say they should not have to pay one penny for a service that they don’t believe should exist.
The right wing has been purposefully trying for years to wreck Washington’s government so that it can’t work. Though they have tried, they have been unable to elect a Republican governor to do their handiwork, and unable to wrest control of the Legislature. But they have been much more successful at forcing public votes on nefarious schemes intended to shred public services and dismantle our common wealth. Many of these schemes, of course, have been sponsored by Tim Eyman.
I created Permanent Defense in 2002 and then NPI in 2003 because I didn’t see a sufficient response being mounted to combat this ongoing campaign of destruction. I took the advice of that great Hopi poem, decided that I was one of the people I had been waiting for, and became an activist.
In the nine plus years I’ve been at this, I’ve learned that actions speak much louder than words. Yes, I know, it’s a cliche, but it’s true. I know from experience that platitudes do not solve problems and noble intentions do not improve lives. Progress requires courage and vision. If winning elected office is hard, then governing well and leading by example is unimaginably difficult.
Rob McKenna wants to be our state’s chief executive, but nothing that he has done in his political career has convinced me that he is qualified for the job.
What McKenna has proved is that he is as good at selling himself as Tim Eyman is at selling really destructive initiatives. His P.R. machine is top-rate. If McKenna were as talented at taking on powerful interests as he was at promoting himself, he’d be a heck of an attorney general. But, in reality, he’s just been using the office as a staging ground for his gubernatorial campaign.
I remember watching a debate in 2008 between John Ladenburg and McKenna at Seattle University. The two men were asked if they thought the position of attorney general was an appropriate stepping-stone to the office of governor. Ladenburg said no, and McKenna said yes — to the amusement of the audience.
McKenna has been preparing for today’s announcement for a very, very long time. As I said, he’s an incredibly shrewd politician, and I expect he’ll wage a formidable campaign. So does the Democratic Party and its many campaign committees, which wasted no time in responding to McKenna’s announcement.
“The voters of Washington will have a long time to assess their candidates for governor and we are confident that they will reject Rob McKenna,” Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Colm O’Comartun said in a statement.
“The DGA is fully committed to keeping the governor’s mansion in Democratic hands and we will do what it takes to ensure that happens.”
The state Democratic Party unleashed an even lengthier broadside.
“Rob McKenna has spent his time in public office taking marching orders from the far right-wing of the Republican Party — headlining Tea Party rallies, undercutting working families, and wasting taxpayer dollars on a highly partisan effort to block Washingtonians from accessing high quality, affordable health care,” said State Parrty Chairman Dwight Pelz, who once served with McKenna.
“As attorney general and as a member of the King County Council, Rob McKenna consistently opposed the rights of working Washingtonians, even fighting an organizing drive among his staff.”
And Fuse Washington has released a video reinforcing the same point.
So we’re off. Rob McKenna’s long-awaited bid for governor has begun. And now the other dominoes will begin to fall. In just a few weeks — possibly even within the next few days — Chris Gregoire will announce she won’t be seeking reelection in 2012, clearing the way for Jay Inslee to launch his own campaign.
Folks who thought the 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial campaigns were hard fought may think differently once the 2012 campaign is over. It looks like it’s going to be a lot fiercer and a lot longer. That’s because so much is at stake.