Last night, Jay Inslee squared off against Rob McKenna in a debate focused on jobs, the economy, and economic development. Inslee focused on the innovative spirit of Washingtonians and the new “innovation economy” and McKenna laid out what he called a “New Direction” for the state.
While McKenna is a slick speaker, it soon became apparent that his New Direction approach was all too familiar: cut taxes, cut regulations, cut services, and blame the victims of the economic crisis for the economic crisis. He exposed himself on this last point in his question to Inslee about voting for bills that extended credit to homebuyers, which McKenna blamed for causing the “housing meltdown.” Inslee took sharp exception with McKenna’s analysis and pointed out that he was among the few members of Congress who voted against the financial deregulation bill, undoing the Glass Steagall Act, which gave Wall Street banks the tools and incentive to undermine our economy.
On health care, McKenna had a hard time answering how he would address the one million Washingtonians without health coverage if the Affordable Care Act is found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court — a lawsuit McKenna is a party to. While he suggested he would continue to work on the state’s Health Care Exchange and expanded Medicaid, if the ACA is ruled unconstitutional, the foundation and funding for these pieces likely goes away as well. So then we are left with McKenna’s old direction of Health Savings Accounts and the old Republican wish that insurance companies could sell their policies nationally. Everyone with great admiration for and trust in the big health insurance companies, please raise your hands!
Inslee recognizes health care for all as a value that we embrace in Washington state, but he is an absolute realist in recognizing that our state will be on its own if McKenna’s lawsuit takes down the the Affordable Health Care Act. Inslee recognizes that this would not be a pretty picture and that allowing insurance companies once again to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and for young adult dependents on their parents’ policies will only make our health care crisis worse.
With regards to basic education, McKenna says he supports the charter school initiative and supports spending $1 billion additional dollars on K 12 education. He claims that we will get this funding through squeezing the existing budget and repurposing government. In doing so, he shows his ignorance of the state budget process. More than 70 percent of the state budget can’t be cut because of either state constitutional and federal requirements. Coming up with $1 billion without raising taxes would require either shutting down our state’s higher education system, leaving our environment totally unprotected, and privatizing most of state government to private contractors that pay minimum wage.
Inslee’s answer to how to fund the $1 billion necessary for K-12 needs some more work, too. He said growing the innovation economy which will grow revenue. This, of course, takes time. He also suggests eliminating some tax loopholes. Inslee was right on the mark when he attacked McKenna for the contradiction of supporting charter schools and the tens of millions of public dollars that would require, and also promising that he would raise $1 billion for basic education.
When all is said and done, McKenna is a slick and polished politician, while Inslee is a candidate with deep character and values. This was my biggest takeaway from this debate and it is a no-brainer for me that Inslee will govern with the best interests of the people of our state in mind.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.