Governor candidates talk local issues
November 1, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna clashed in a recent series of debates, but the candidates vying to serve as Washington’s next governor share similar positions on local issues, such as support for the state parks system.
The race at the state level is focused on the candidates’ policies on education and transportation — hot topics on the docket as Inslee and McKenna met in recent weeks.
Sammamish Review asked the candidates about funding for state parks, salmon restoration and growth management — key concerns in Sammamish and the surrounding area.
Both candidates bring experience in elected office to the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Gregoire, a Democrat, decided not to run for a third term after presiding over the state during round after round of bruising budget cuts.
Bellevue resident McKenna is the state attorney general. Bainbridge Island resident Inslee represented Washington in the U.S. House of Representatives in separate stints in the 1990s and 2000s.
More dollars for state parks system
Inslee and McKenna support a return to some support from taxpayer dollars for the state parks system. Legislators created the Discover Pass last year to collect fees from parkgoers at Lake Sammamish, Squak Mountain and other state parks, but the system continues to struggle.
“The need for healthy funding for our parks is growing greater over time, because we’ve got more need, not less, for opportunities to be outdoors, particularly for our kids, both for educational purposes and for health purposes,” Inslee said in a recent interview. “I believe our state parks are our jewels in our crown, and they’ve become more important rather than less over time. So, it really has been a heartbreak to see the collapse of state support for the parks.”
McKenna said the state could generate dollars by offering long-term concession leases at parks, and save money elsewhere in the budget and then direct a portion to state parks.
“The reason that the state Legislature and governor have cut state parks so deeply is that they haven’t been able to manage other state costs, so my plan is stop cutting our parks budget and over time to restore some of that funding,” he said in a recent interview. “We’ll do that by controlling other areas of state expense — administrative costs, overhead, state employee health insurance costs and so forth.”
Inslee said funding for state parks is a priority, but leaders need to direct dollars to other commitments, too.
“I just don’t believe there’s a reasonable plan for them to be totally self-funding,” he said. “They’re going to need some state general fund support in some sense. I intend to try to accomplish that. Now, it’s not going to happen overnight because of the needs we have and, obviously, our paramount duty is education.”
McKenna, a former King County councilman, cited county-run Marymoor Park as a model for attracting outside dollars to state parks.
“They can certainly do more to help support themselves through long-term contracts with concessionaires, for example,” he said. “We were very successful at Marymoor Park in this regard when I was on the County Council. It was in those days when we asked people to start paying a couple bucks to park their cars. We let out contracts for concessionaires. We started in that park allowing some activities to come in — concerts and circuses, because Marymoor has the land to do it.”
Support for state hatcheries, fisheries
Both candidates said the network of state-run hatcheries, including the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, plays a key role in salmon conservation, including the fish in Lake Sammamish.
“The state needs to maintain its role as the largest operator of hatcheries through the Department of Fish and Wildlife,” McKenna said.
Fisheries managers rely on a patchwork of state, federal and tribal hatcheries to sustain salmon populations for commercial and recreational fisheries.
“These hatcheries cost money to operate, but there’s a huge return on investment when you compare the cost of the hatchery operations to the billions of dollars of economic value created by the fisheries,” McKenna said.
Inslee tied the hatcheries’ role in sustaining salmon populations to the importance of tourism in the Evergreen State.
“Our state right now is the only state in the country that doesn’t have a state strategy for promoting tourism, which is nuts when we have the most beautiful state in the union,” he said. “I’ve been working with private industries to try and figure out a partnership that can develop a way to promote the state of Washington and our tourism industry. I know that’s very important in Issaquah, and recreational fishing is obviously a very attractive part of that statewide plan.”
State could act as partner on growth
Inslee and McKenna said the state can act as a partner to Sammamish and other cities in order to plan for long-term growth. The state could spearhead environmental projects, for instance, and tailor transportation projects to fit local needs.
“The investments that we make in environmental enhancements take some pressure off the cities to do that, whether it’s replacing culverts under roads and highways, or making investments to protect Puget Sound,” McKenna said
Inslee said the plan to extend Sound Transit East Link light rail across Lake Washington is a critical step to easing traffic congestion along Interstate 90. East Link is a proposed $2.8 billion, 14.5-mile line to connect Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond.
Sound Transit estimates passenger service could start in 2023.
“We all have a stake in that, even if we don’t have a stop right next to our house, because it helps to at least alleviate what will be continuing congestion,” Inslee said. “I’m the only candidate in the race who supports light rail, and I think that’s an extremely important part of both our economic development and our personal lives.”
Eastside is gubernatorial battleground
The race for governor is among the closest in the nation, and the Eastside — and the legislative districts containing Sammamish — ranks as a battleground in the race.
Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University, said voters in the Eastside do not stick to a single political party.
Donovan said statewide elections hinge on suburban precincts, as most voters in Seattle choose only Democrats down the ballot and most voters in Eastern Washington choose only Republicans.
Eastside voters “are critical to any Republican’s chances to win a statewide office,” Donovan said.
“There are tens of thousands of voters in that area who are seemingly regularly voting for a Democrat for one statewide office or federal office, and Republican for another,” Donovan said. “These are, maybe, the biggest swing voters in the state.”
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.