Endorsement — Daily World chooses McKenna for governor

The governor’s race isn’t about who is conservative and who is liberal. It’s about offering specific policies to fix the state’s education system, streamline government and try to get the Evergreen State back on track.

Attorney General Rob McKenna offers a much more specific vision than his opponent, former congressman Jay Inslee. It’s for that reason we’re endorsing McKenna for governor.

McKenna has managed a large state agency for nearly eight years, and, in the process, has streamlined its operations. He displays a reasoned approach to policy, and, whether you agree with his views or not, can detail that reasoning with well-thought-out arguments.

His plan to adhere to the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case — that the state isn’t fulfilling its duty to fully fund basic education — is based on a bipartisan plan to shift school levy collections away from local districts and back to the state in the short run. In the long term, he’s pledged to put as much as $3.7 billion more into education by capping other state spending and giving the lion’s share of projected revenue gains over the next few years to schools.

Though the effect of the levy shift and subsequent redistribution of the tax burden is a bit worrisome — it’s unclear which districts will see an overall increase or decrease in their tax bills when it happens — it takes care of the basic premise that too much of the educational burden is being shouldered by local tax levies.

Inslee calls the plan a gimmick, at best, and stresses that the levy shift by itself doesn’t translate into any more money, a point that McKenna concedes. Beyond the levy shift, McKenna’s figures on how to increase education spending are based on budget projections that have not yet come to fruition, but they seem at least plausible.

Inslee, for his plan, speaks in general terms about job creation, controlling health care costs and increasing efficiency in Olympia as ways to free up money for education spending, though his plan lacks the necessary detail to clearly see where his vision is going. He says he’ll “build the budget around education,” but it’s all just a little too vague.

On efficiency in state government, the candidates offer divergent strategies. McKenna favors shifting the state to a performance-based pay system, instead of relying on simple seniority. He makes a strong case that it encourages productivity, and can point to his own agency as a model. Over four years, his office has lost 14 percent of its staff, he says, and those who are left are more productive. It’ll be an uphill battle to convince unions to accept that change across all state agencies, no doubt, but it’s hard to argue against paying the best workers the most money.

As for job cuts, McKenna doesn’t pull any punches, saying that state agencies will likely see reductions with his plan, but he pledges to eliminate jobs by attrition before resorting to layoffs.

Inslee favors instituting so-called Lean Management practices that identify what works, and what doesn’t, reduces wasteful spending and practices, and emphasizes streamlining and efficiency of the most important aspects of an organization. It’s an intriguing idea, and one that bears looking into. But, like many of Inslee’s positions, it has the spark of a good idea, but lacks detail for how to institute it, and how quickly we might see results.

Philosophical differences are many between Inslee and McKenna, predictably, but the most intriguing is on health care. McKenna is wary of the cost of an expansion of Medicaid that the health reform bill provides for, while Inslee supports it. The attorney general instead favors the Health Benefit Exchange, allowing people to shop for private insurance starting next year. Inslee has made a lot of political hay over the Medicaid issue, though the impacts of either plan are merely theoretical at this point.

And, though McKenna’s decision to join the lawsuit challenging the national health care law looked like a political move, he can articulate his position clearly, and maintained from the beginning that he supports certain parts of the law. After losing the suit in which he joined with 25 other state attorneys general, McKenna broke from many conservatives after the decision and said the law should not be scrapped. He also doesn’t consider the outcome of the case to be without some victories.

Inslee professes to have been a key player in the law’s passage in Washington, D.C. Whether you like the law or not, there’s no denying its historic ramifications. Inslee deserves praise for that work.

But, as governor, the job is not only about crafting policy, it’s about implementing it, too. On that front, McKenna has the experience needed. Inslee, though he’s no doubt an able policymaker with years of experience in Congress, lacks a clear plan to follow through with his ideas.

The Daily World’s Editorial Board includes Publisher Bill Crawford, Editor Doug Barker, Sports Editor Rick Anderson and City Editor Dan Jackson.