I'm not talking about the national debate that happened last night. I'm talking about the Washington State governor's race debate. Of course the Inslee campaign wants to act like it's Obama-Inslee vs. Romney-McKenna. But Washingtonians are smarter than that. They know who's running for governor. They know that Governor of the State of Washington is not a federal position.
So here's why McKenna won the only debate that mattered this week—the one in Yakima on Tuesday evening. He won because he once again showed that he's the guy with the brains and experience to do the job. Inslee fumbled around in his grab-bag of familiar talking points, dropped them on the podium at random as usual, and, for an event organized by the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, could only muster four words in Spanish: "Buenos noches" and "Muchos gracias." (Remember: This is the same guy who couldn't stop talking during the debate about all the time he'd spent representing portions of Central Washington in Congress many years ago. You'd think Inslee could've learned more than four Spanish words in that time.)
McKenna, on the other hand, did his whole opening statement in Spanish. But that's just a sign of how much he knows about, respects, and relates to the communities of Central Washington. As for the substance: whether the candidates were addressing agriculture, taxes, taking communities back from gangs, public education funding, immigration reform, or expanding Medicaid, McKenna showed he's the one who knows more about the pressing issues facing the voters of this state. Meanwhile, Inslee kept reaching for the lifeline of the presidential election, bringing in non-sequitur, off-topic ideas when he didn't have pertinent answers to Enrique Cerna's very on-target questions.
McKenna successfully pointed this out several times during the debate, but one thing he was too polite to mention was this: Inslee was fired by the voters of Central Washington in 1994. (And afterward carpetbagged over to Bainbridge Island, where he served a bit of time as that island's Congressman before quitting—I repeat, quitting on his constituents—to run for governor.)
But I digress. The moment that really lost Inslee the debate was when McKenna reminded the audience what Inslee, who claims he's not going to raise taxes as governor, actually did the last time he was elected to a job in Olympia. Back when Inslee was a state legislator, the state was in a Democrat-created fiscal mess similar to the one we find ourselves in now, and what did Inslee do? He voted to raise taxes—not just to erase a budget shortfall, but also fund pay raises—pay raises!—for public employees.
Of course Inslee tried to claim he wouldn't raise taxes this time, but who believed him after what he did last time?
Not Rob McKenna. Not the voters of Central Washington. And probably not even the guy Inslee keeps clinging to for support, tax-happy Barack Obama.