OLYMPIA, Aug. 30.—In a debate that showed what a difference a couple of months can make, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna tore into his opponent as an exemplar of 28 years of Democratic rule in this state, and Jay Inslee retorted that he has a few ideas that set him apart.
The second televised debate between the two candidates, held at WSU-Vancouver Wednesday night, was a more polished affair than the first. A little over two months have passed since they met onstage June 12 in Spokane – two months of intense public speaking and message development – and while the themes haven’t changed, there’s a big difference in the way they present them. McKenna pounded Inslee repeatedly with the idea that his party is responsible for gutting education while building up government overhead, even as state tax revenue skyrocketed. “If you trust the same people who have been running things to run it, go ahead,” McKenna said.
And on Inslee’s part, there might not have been any more specifics, but there certainly was more confidence. He said he is not currently proposing that taxes be raised, and that he has a few new ideas regarding green energy, job creation and government management that will boost the state economy. “If we do this, we are going to generate hundreds of millions more dollars that can be available for education,” Inslee said. “We need a leader who will try to develop a consensus around this, rather than partisan conflict.”
The two candidates, of course, are the players in what may be the country’s hottest gubernatorial race, an open seat created by the exit of two-term Gov. Christine Gregoire. Democrats have held the governor’s mansion since 1985 and the race has become as much a referendum on 28 years of Democratic rule as a contest between two accomplished political figures. McKenna is a two-term attorney general, Inslee a former congressman from the Central Puget Sound area who gave up his seat to run for the office.
Major Goof by Inslee
Inslee made one major mistake. He said the “lean management” techniques he’s counting on to reduce the cost of state government are a foreign concept in the state’s capital city. “There’s no reason on this green Earth that we have not embraced the efficiency measures in state government that have been so successful in private enterprise,” Inslee said. “When we have the world’s most successful aerospace industry and Boeing is using these high-tech, high-quality ways of managing an organization, that we should not be using these. These have not been used under any predecessor, Republican or Democrat.”
Actually, lean management, a way of managing workflow, has been a major emphasis for the Gregoire Administration, touted by the current governor at seemingly every other public appearance and press conference of the last two years. Gregoire will be the keynote speaker at a Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference in Tacoma Oct. 23 and 24. McKenna noted the work going on in his own department at improving the delivery of services using lean management techniques, and said the Department of Social and Health Services has scored impressive results. He said drily, “I think that Gov. Gregoire would be surprised to hear Mr. Inslee talk as though there is no ‘lean’ going on in state government.”
And for all its salutary effect, he said it’s not as if anyone can tell how much money that’s going to save.
Platitudes and Promises
On perhaps the biggest immediate problem facing state government, a billion-dollar boost in education spending that has been mandated by a recent Supreme Court decision at a time when there is no money to pay for it, Inslee insisted that his plan for boosting job growth could help fill the need. Inslee advocates a program of incentives for specific “innovation” industries and a new state office of economic competitiveness. “We have to diagnose the problem, and the problem is that we have 300,000 people out of work,” he said. “That’s why I will be as focused as a laser beam on getting those people back to work. Then revenues will increase.”
Add a few efficiencies in health care delivery and make government more efficient, and Inslee said the budget gap can be bridged. And he said he can do it working cooperatively with public-sector unions and other interest groups – while comparing McKenna to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a bogeyman for many on Inslee’s side of the aisle for his crackdown on state employee unions. McKenna, for his part, says he admires Walker’s fiscal conservatism but supports public-employee collective bargaining rights.
McKenna, who has presented a rather more detailed program that would cap most growth in state government and shunt all additional money to education, accused Inslee of talking in vague platitudes with not a single dollar sign attached. He noted that during the past 28 years a procession of Democratic governors and largely Democrat-controlled Legislatures have reduced K-12’s share of the budget and piled an increasing share of higher education costs onto students and parents in the form of dramatic tuition increases. This despite the fact that state government tax revenues have doubled in the last 20 years.
“I am not talking to you with platitudes or general promises – well, we can do this differently or that differently,” McKenna said. “Those could be important tools, but you notice there are no dollars attached to that, no actual estimate of what could be saved. The only way to really get there for public schools, to get out from under the Supreme Court order and provide fair levels of tuition for our families, is to dedicate more of the state budget than we have. And I propose capping non-education spending growth at six percent a biennium, taking the balance of that revenue into public education and K-12.”
Inslee might say he’s not currently thinking about a tax increase, McKenna said, but you have to wonder what he’d say after the election. The Dems keep presenting “a parade of horribles, that we have endless deficits even with massive increases in revenue, and we need more taxes, we can’t fund our schools without higher taxes – etc. That is not acceptable. The voters aren’t accepting it and I don’t accept it.”