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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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