Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna is an interesting man -- a study in contradictions and opposites. But that can be said of most of us who aren't running for political office.
Rob's been called "the golden child of the state Republican Party," and is skilled at presenting himself as a moderate to a blue-state electorate, while actively pursuing the pro-business, socially conservative agenda of the national GOP.
Democrats grudgingly acknowledge as much: "After four years of using the office for political purposes, he's established an appearance of independence," said State Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle), who has worked with McKenna as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
McKenna, 45, a former business attorney and three-term King County councilman, was elected to his first term as AG in 2004, and is running for reelection. Since he's asking for your vote and mine, let's take a look at the man, shall we?
• One of the coolest things about Rob McKenna is he's the first and only female-to-male (FTM) transgendered person in Washington to be elected to a statewide political office. I won't even try to bullshit you -- there's just no getting around the fact that, Republican or not, that is cool as fuck.
Mad props to Rob for blazing new trails, for his bravery in being willing to medically address his gender dysphoria, and for serving as an inspiring example to others who might be facing the situation in which Rob once found himself. It would be way cooler if Rob spoke out to let others, particularly our young people, know that gender dysphoria isn't the end of the world, and that once the problem is corrected, one can go on to a distinguished career. He hasn't done and won't do that, of course, since in doing so he'd inevitably incur the wrath of the national GOP, which doesn't look with particular compassion on transgendered individuals. Heck, they still haven't even gotten over gay people.
McKenna's transgender status has been studiously ignored by both the mainstream press and by McKenna himself. A big Reality Catcher tip of the hat to The Stranger's Dan Savage, who is apparently thus far the only journalist in Washington with the requisite cojones to tell this particular truth. (Many thought the inimitable Dan was joking; he wasn't. It's common knowledge in Seattle's LGBT community.)
• McKenna filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court Oct. 3 against the Washington State Republican Party for illegally spending $212,967 to advocate for Dino Rossi, the GOP candidate for governor. Following up on the Public Disclosure Commission's findings, McKenna's lawsuit says his state party used unlimited "soft money" contributions for three mailings that criticized Gov. Christine Gregoire and urged people to "Vote for Dino Rossi." Soft money can only be used for administrative and party-building activities. Only "hard money" contributions, which are limited by state law, can be used to expressly promote candidates.
John Ladenburg, McKenna's opponent in this year's race for attorney general, has argued that McKenna has a conflict of interest and should hand over the case against the state party to an independent counsel. McKenna has rebuffed Ladenburg, saying his office has good lawyers that will prosecute the case objectively. McKenna notes that his Democratic predecessor, Gregoire, won lawsuits and hefty settlements against the Democratic Party ($250,000) and the state teachers' union ($430,000), which had supported her campaign for AG.
McKenna made the decision to file the suit but will not be further involved in the case, according to spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie. Instead, McKenna's chief deputy, Brian Moran, will be responsible for the case. "In an abundance of caution" McKenna has "screened" himself from the case because of his long relationship with Luke Esser, head of the state Republican Party, Guthrie said. Esser has worked for McKenna and the two have known each other since college, she said. Moran will not seek an injunction to stop the GOP from repeating its violations, she added. The party has said in a letter to the attorney general it would refrain from improperly using soft money again. "Absent an imminent threat that the behavior will continue we don't have enough evidence to file for an injunction," Guthrie said. "But should we have evidence we stand ready to file for an injunction."
OK, OK, so McKenna's suit against the Washington GOP is starting to look more and more like window dressing, just to keep Ladenburg and the Democrats off his back. Still, even though it appears he's softballing the investigation and minimizing the consequences, the spectacle of a Republican attorney general filing suit against the state Republican Party falls on the "cool" side of the divide.
McKenna takes a brave stand against cussing! Here he visits anti-swearing group "Dare Not To Swear" at Bremerton High School.
• The uncoolest thing about Rob is his persecution of medical marijuana patients. While Washington voters decided on compassion for extremely ill people whose suffering is alleviated by medical marijuana in 1998, evidently a decade isn't long enough for McKenna to get the message. The real problem is that while medical use of weed is legal with a doctor's recommendation in Washington, pot is still illegal for any use according to federal law. And Rob is nothing if not a brown-noser of the national Republican Party -- witness his eagerness to serve as McCain's state campaign chairman.
In talking with medical marijuana advocates, patients and providers, I've learned that the difference in the Attorney General's office towards patients since McKenna took over is like night and day. Time after time, I've heard people describe how helpful was the office of then-Atty. Gen. Chris Gregoire, and how an obstinately uncooperative and obstructionist attitude seems to have taken hold among Rob's staff.
Rob has also denied the use of medical marijuana to patients on probation, apparently believing that probationers deserve a less effective level of medical care than others. In a recurring pattern, McKenna chooses, whenever possible, to follow the pot-phobic dictates of the Bush Administration rather than the Washington state law he has sworn to uphold.
McKenna's willingness to put the orthodoxy of his party over the well-being of Washington's medical marijuana patients says deeply unflattering things about him. Things like "callow ambition," "selective compassion" and "pandering to the Far Right."
• McKenna is the Washington state chairman of John McCain's Presidential campaign. Washington State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz has called on Atty. Gen. McKenna to resign from his duties for John McCain's campaign. Pelz called the move the right thing to do in light of reports suggesting that McCain and his associates helped bring the Air Force tanker deal to EADS, a move that cost Washington thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.
"Now that John McCain has decided to put his lobbyist friends above the interests of Washington's working families, Republican Rob McKenna should set aside his blind loyalty to the Republican Party and step aside from the campaign," said Pelz. "Washingtonians quite literally can't afford a third Bush term of failed economic policies that ship American jobs overseas, and Republican Rob McKenna should stop leading that charge here in Washington state."
• When gas prices spiked over $3 a gallon last spring, Attorney General Rob McKenna released the results of a yearlong investigation that found no indication of price fixing by oil companies. The problem, according to John Ladenburg, who is challenging McKenna for his job, is there was no investigation.
"You don't hold a press conference announcing that you are going to do an investigation. That's like telling the crack house down the street that you are going to investigate. They will be gone before you get there," Ladenburg said.
"He doesn't know what an investigation is. There was no inquiry, no one under oath, no subpoenas. He did a study, that's all. You don't call it an investigation if you aren't doing an investigation." Ladenburg says McKenna cares more for big business than for Washington citizens and is more of a politician than a lawyer.
Tim Hamilton, executive director of the Automotive United Trades Organization, an organization representing independent gas sellers, agrees with Ladenburg that McKenna's investigation was less than thorough in its search for price-fixing, and thus misleadingly exonerated the industry. McKenna "knew this couldn't be an investigation from the get-go," Hamilton said. "He just wanted free political advertising."
"By doing nothing, he has done dozens of things wrong," said Ladenburg, 58, a former Tacoma city councilman, former Pierce County prosecuting attorney and the Pierce County executive since 2001.
McKenna has repeatedly criticized former New York AG Eliot Spitzer's famous lawsuits against the financial industry for using publicity to drive down companies' stock prices and strong-arm them into regulation that bypasses the usual rulemaking procedures. By contrast, Ladenburg embraces Spitzer's broader, more aggressive approach. "I think Spitzer did brilliant work," Ladenburg says. "He saved hundreds of millions of dollars by taking on mutual funds that were basically stealing money from people. Rob doesn't believe in being an activist AG. I do."
• Democrats have filed a complaint with state-election watchdogs alleging that TV public-service announcements featuring Attorney General McKenna are improper election advertisements for McKenna's re-election campaign.
McKenna called the complaint "ridiculous." "The bottom line is no law has been violated," he said. (It must be nice to be the top law enforcement officer in the state -- especially when you are "enforcing the law" on yourself.)
At issue are three public-service announcements, or PSAs, that showcase McKenna. One ad was sponsored by BECU, the credit union, and warns about identity theft, while another was paid for by the liquor industry and discourages drunken driving. The third PSA is about Internet safety and was produced by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.
The Internet-safety ad, which aired on Comcast cable-TV stations around the state, ended in September, according to Comcast spokesman Steve Kipp.
In its complaint to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), the state Democratic Party says the ads violate several election rules: They use McKenna's office or title to assist his campaign; they have a value that exceeds the state's $1,600 limit on campaign contributions; and, most important, they aren't public-service announcements as defined by state law.
That law says a candidate must arrange to appear in a PSA at least six months before launching a campaign. If not, the ad likely would be considered an election message and should be reported as a campaign contribution.
The debate falls into a gray area, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on political communication and director of the Annenberg Center for Public Policy of the University of Pennsylvania. Jamieson said such ads help create a good impression of candidates and are essentially contributions to their campaigns.
"The question," she said, "becomes when does the campaign season actually begin?" Washington state law is not completely clear on that, said Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the PDC. Anderson said the commission staff will review rules to see how the start of a campaign is defined.
McKenna's Democratic opponent, John Ladenburg, has proposed a ban on all appearances by elected officials in PSAs during an election year. Ladenburg, the Pierce County executive, said he has appeared in Comcast public-service announcements that wish viewers happy holidays.
• McKenna says he opposes what he calls "regulation through litigation." His tortured explanation of why he takes that position is pretty much impenetrable. Save yourself some time; just write it up to McKenna once again placing the needs of Big Business above those of Washington citizens.
It's no wonder Rob McKenna is getting huge campaign contributions from payday lenders, car dealerships and insurance companies. Ummm... Isn’t he supposed to be a watchdog -- NOT the guard dog -- of these industries? "As an advocate for consumers, he's done an excellent job of not making enemies [in industry]," said Ladenburg campaign manager David Sawyer.
Ladenburg portrays McKenna as more interested in publicity than in consumer protection. McKenna "issued more press releases than subpoenas," Ladenburg quipped at a Sept. 18 debate at the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
• During the 2006 election (before he was up for reelection), McKenna, in an ethically questionable move, used faux "official" Attorney General letterhead to endorse Mike Riley, a Republican candidate for the State Senate, while attempting to trash Riley's Democratic opponent, Christina Kauffman.
During the same election, Rob recorded a robo-call, identifying himself as Washington's Attorney General and advising listeners to vote for Luke Esser for State Representative. Both these cases represent a conflating of public office with partisan activities.
Using the bully pulpit of the AG's office to engage is partisan advocacy isn't what we, tax-paying Washingtonians, hired McKenna to do back in 2004.
• McKenna has been called out on a controversial foreclosure bill over which he once declared ownership but now disavows.
Since the Distressed Property Law took effect on June 12, it has facilitated no lawsuits but copious finger-pointing. The law, designed to squelch shady foreclosure-rescue schemes, makes realtors unhappy because, they say, it saddles them with undue liability. Meanwhile, AG McKenna, who once trumpeted his ownership of the bill, now disavows it, instead siding with the realtors.
The law says an investor who approaches a homeowner within 20 days of foreclosure must act in the homeowner's best financial interest. The law also applies to third parties, which in many cases are realtors. In a video appearing on the Washington Realtors website, McKenna claims that "the state Senate added a lot of language that we never intended and that we actively opposed with our friends in the realtor community." The solution, he says, is to roll back the law in favor of the original one drafted by his office. McKenna's spokesperson, Kristin Alexander, claims the troublesome language appeared in the bill only hours before state lawmakers voted on it, so there was little time to review the bill. She also claims that when Assistant Attorney General Jim Sugarman appeared before the Senate Consumer Protection and Housing Committee on Jan. 25, he had less than a minute to testify.
Balderdash, says Sen. Brian Weinstein (D-Mercer Island), one of the bill's sponsors. He claims the attorney general's office was involved in every phase of crafting the final law. Weinstein, the chair of the Consumer Protection and Housing Committee, oversaw Sugarman's testimony. Speaking for about eight minutes, Sugarman compared two versions of the bill: SB 6431, the version the attorney general's office helped draft, and SB 6695, a more complex version that Weinstein co-sponsored. In his testimony, Sugarman noted that 6431 regulates the transaction itself, while 6695 defines the duties of the investor and defines a foreclosure consultant.
• McKenna refused to join the attorneys general of other states in a fuel efficiency lawsuit, preferring instead to march in lockstep with the Bush Administration's (lack of an) environmental policy.
"Rob McKenna missed his chance to be part of the solution rather than stick his head in the sand," wrote Steve Zemke on the Majority Rules Blog. "McKenna is running again for Attorney General of Washington. Inaction on critical issues when the opportunity arises like it did for McKenna to join the Federal lawsuit and represent Washington state's interests are legitimate issues that one can use to evaluate and judge whether a public official is representing the voters interests or not.
"Global warming is a significant issue affecting the future of our state. The public has a right to question the inaction of public officials in addressing this problem. On this one McKenna came up missing in action."
McKenna's sole appearance on The Dating Game didn't end well.
Throw The Bum Out
McKenna's negatives, especially his devotion to the far-Right extremist agenda and arch-conservative philosophy of the national Republican Party, far outweigh his positives.
Rob McKenna is not cool. Throw his shapely ass out of office.