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March, 28th 2012

This week in gubernatorial candidate contrasts

– Liz Mair

The gubernatorial race is well underway in Washington, with Jay Inslee having left Congress last week in order to focus full-time on running to replace outgoing Gov. Christine Gregoire, and Rob McKenna running while, well, continuing to do his job as Washington’s Attorney General. This week, as it happens, perhaps offers something of an indicator of the nature of the contest, with thanks to the eagle-eyed reader who tipped me off to a couple of interesting tidbits.

Beginning tonight, McKenna’s Presidential Initiative Summit, “Pillars of Hope – Attorneys General Unite Against Human Trafficking” (a 3-day National Association of Attorneys General meeting) gets underway at the Seattle Westin. The summit continues through Friday, focusing on indentifying methods of combating sex and labor trafficking.

Meanwhile Friday lunchtime, Inslee will be attending a fundraiser hosted by California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle. This follows a fundraiser earlier this month with former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (Inslee raising money with Spitzer being something bound to tick off a few readers, given the circumstances in which Spitzer exited his job as governor).

Serious business aimed at combating a real social ill versus light-hearted socializing with big names in party politics to propel one’s political career is what this will read as to some political observers, I imagine—unfortunately for Inslee.

Now this is not to say that raising money isn’t important. It is, especially if you’re a Democrat running in a blue state who is, despite that, facing a race that many expect to be competitive and anticipating a strong challenge from a Republican. This is moreover the case when you think about the expense associated with advertising in the Seattle media market, something that Inslee looks like he’s going to have to do, and not on the cheap, either.

But it is also something that is likely to cause a few chuckles among some Washington political types (in both parties) who, to put it kindly, don’t universally view Inslee as much of a workhorse (whereas, say, retiring Rep. Norm Dicks, for whatever else you or I might say, does seem to have been viewed pretty consistently as a hard worker) or the most humble and suck-it-up-and-do-your-job type of Washington political figures.

Critics of Inslee have in private conversation previously pointed to the fact that relative to other members of the Washington congressional delegation, he didn’t (at least as of late) take as much of a formal leadership role in the House generally or on House committees and subcommittees as one might have expected. I’m also familiar with folks who have worked for members of the Washington delegation who describe Inslee as difficult (not inherently a bad thing, but perhaps not the qualification voters will be looking for in a governor).

Inslee also missed a number of votes before standing down from the House, according to govtrack.us. In Q4 of 2011, he missed 6.7 percent of votes. In Q1 of 2012 (up until the point of his resignation, presumably) he missed 10.9 percent of votes.

Now, to be fair, it’s tough running for governor on the other side of the country when you’re not an automatic shoo-in and you therefore can’t just have your campaign run on autopilot or delegate every duty going to aides or prominent supporters. One interpretation is that it’s therefore far better for Inslee to have stood down and focus on the main task at hand (campaigning). Another, however, is that he’s put his political aspirations ahead of doing important work and current public service—a conclusion that might be reinforced by the possibility that the people of the First District will go unrepresented in Congress until December 6 (and if you believe that more of them than not oppose the GOP House agenda, that might be kind of important, too).

McKenna supporters view this race as a classic matchup of workhorse versus showhorse, the diligent public servant versus the political-ladder-climbing ego. That may be a bit harsh on Inslee (without a doubt, I can think of a number of current and former Members of Congress who were far more interested in the media spotlight than Inslee and far less interested in doing their jobs than him, too). But it is a narrative that McKenna backers see truth in, and will (I believe) seek to emphasize as the campaign goes on.

Little details like McKenna’s schedule on Friday, versus Inslee’s, could, if they keep building up, lend more credibility to this narrative. That may be a rough ride, but that’s the situation.

 

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