by ROBERT MAK / KING 5 News
BELLEVUE, Wash. — To launch his campaign for governor, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna went back to his alma mater, Bellevue’s Sammamish High School.
The location made political sense, with suburban swing districts like Bellevue playing a key role in statewide races. But McKenna also used the student auditorium as a backdrop for one of his upcoming campaign themes—increasing the share of the state budget spent on public education.
“When Washington state was humiliated by its poor showing in President Obama’s Race to the Top competition, it became clear to all that our state has become an education reform backwater,” McKenna told a crowd of about 250 supporters.
McKenna pledged that over the next four to eight years, he would aim to increase the share of the state budget spent on K-12 education from about 42% to over 50%. He also pledged to increase the share of the state budget spent on higher education from about 8% to 16%.
“I want to propose a 50-50 deal. What that would mean is we would get back to where the state would provide at least 50% of the cost of an undergraduate education, and the students and their families would provide the other 50%,” McKenna said.
In a press conference after the campaign kick-off, McKenna was pressed on how he would pay for these increases. He did not volunteer any specific cuts, but suggested increasing productivity and trimming state government and the cost of health care for state employees. “We don’t need massive layoffs to accomplish this and it wouldn’t be smart to go that route…What we can do is rely on the fact that every year, 5-7% of state employees retire,” McKenna said.
McKenna said he would not roll back collective bargaining for state employees, but he did back a significant change to the process. Currently, unions bargain directly with the Governor and the legislature can only approve or reject the agreement. McKenna says he supports going back to the old system, where the legislature is part of the negotiation. That way, employee contracts are considered along with the rest of the state budget, McKenna said.
Promising less government
In his first official campaign speech, McKenna sounded familiar Republican themes on jobs and the economy. He talked about helping small businesses, reducing regulations and having government “get out of the way.” McKenna spoke of his own first job at a McDonald’s in Bellevue. “We need a governor who realizes that the most basic job, even flipping burgers, is better than the most elaborate social program,” McKenna said.
Democrats hope to paint McKenna as too extreme. In a statement, state Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz writes, “Far from the moderate he pretends to be, 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.”
Republicans haven’t captured the governor’s mansion in 30 years, but the party is hopeful that McKenna will appeal to independents. McKenna has cast himself as a moderate, on issues such as abortion. “I think I’m among the 80% of Americans who believe the woman should be able to make the choice within certain parameters,” McKenna told KING 5 last year. “I ask people who want to ban abortion in all cases, do they really want to send these women to prison?”
Appeal to independents
McKenna’s approval rating in the latest KING 5 poll is 44%. SurveyUSA found little variance in his approval rating among registered voters: 47% approval among Republicans, 42% among Democrats and 46% among independents.
Democrats have also attacked McKenna for joining other states in a lawsuit challenging health care reform, specifically the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. “This is a step forward, we should not go backwards,” said Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee, who plans to jump into the governor’s race, provided Governor Christine Gregoire does not run for a third term. Gregoire has said she will decide shortly, perhaps within the next two weeks. “And I’ll make my intentions known fairly shortly after her decision if she makes it,” Inslee said.
A new KING 5 poll finds the health care lawsuit may not be a significant factor in the governor’s race. SurveyUSA polled registered voters and found 36% were more likely to support McKenna for his position on the health care reform, 40% said it made them less likely to support him. While 22% said it would make no difference to them, McKenna’s action may have secured support among core Republican voters. The poll of 502 registered voters has a margin of 4.5%.
Republican Congressman Dave Reichert told KING 5 in April that he was considering jumping into the governor’s race, as well as running for re-election to his 8th district congressional seat, or running for Senate. Reichert told us today, he spoke with party leaders and is now throwing his support behind McKenna. Reichert says he’s still considering a run for Senate.
The KING 5 poll also found, that with no specific candidate names attached, 46% of registered voters said they would be inclined to vote fora Democrat in next year’s gubernatorial election, while 45% said a Republican. That suggests it could be a close race.
One sign of that was a little scuffle at McKenna’s press conference today. Democrats hired a man to follow McKenna and tape his remarks; Republicans ushered him out of the school.