This article presents an unbiased comparison of the political positions and policies of Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee, the Republican and Democratic party candidates respectively for the 2012 gubernatorial elections in Washington. McKenna is the Attorney General of Washington and Inslee was a Congressman until he resigned in March 2012 to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.

Washington has not had a Republican governor since John Spellman was elected in 1980. In an extremely tightly contested race, Democrat Jay Inslee sealed his victory over Republican Rob McKenna three days after the election.

Comparison chart

Jay Inslee versus Rob McKenna comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartJay InsleeRob McKenna
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Jay InsleeRob McKenna
Date of birth February 9, 1951 October 1, 1962
Political party Democratic Republican
Spouse(s) Trudi Inslee Marilyn McKenna
Alma mater University of Washington, Willamette University University of Washington, University of Chicago Law School
Profession Lawyer, politician Lawyer
Religion Non-denominational Protestant Roman Catholic
Position on same-sex marriage Supports Opposes
Logo of Republican(Elephant) and Democratic (Donkey) parties
Logo of Republican(Elephant) and Democratic (Donkey) parties

Early Life and Career

Inslee was born in Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington (Bachelor of Arts, Economics) and Willamette University College of Law. He practiced law for ten years in Selah, WA. He was a Congressman from Washington. from 1989-1993. Having been defeated in his re-election bid in 1994, he ran for governor in 1996 but did not win the primary. He served as regional director of the US Dept. of Health & Human Services. From 1999 to March 2012, he was in Congress. He resigned to focus on the gubernatorial race, forcing the state to spend $1,000,000 on an emergency election.

McKenna was born in Texas. His father was in the army and McKenna grew up at posts in Germany, Bangkok, San Francisco and Kansas before his family settled in Bellevue, WA when he was 14. He earned two bachelor's degrees (Economics and International Studies) from the University of Washington. He completed a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1988. From 1988 to 1996, McKenna worked as an attorney. From 1996 to 2003 he served as councilman in the Metropolitan King County Council. Since 2004, he has served as Washington's Attorney General.

Differences in Economic Policy

Inslee’s focus is on seven industry clusters that he believes will “dictate our prosperity” — aerospace, life sciences, agriculture, military, information technology, clean technology, and maritime — and on the small businesses that support them. McKenna’s take is that the state should not be picking winners, and that there is a need for assistance across all business sectors.[1]

Tax Policy

McKenna has, on several occasions, defended the "2/3 rule" requiring a two-third vote before the WA legislature can raise any taxes. He opposed I 1098, a ballot initiative to impose state income taxes on households earning more than $400,000. He supports increasing the Business & Occupation (B&O) tax credit to $4,800 per year for small businesses in all categories. McKenna has proposed requiring out-of-state businesses that sell into Washington (including online and mail-order companies) to pay state taxes, even if they lack a physical presence here.

Inslee's economic plan calls for:

Despite the two-third rule for tax increases being popular among voters, Inslee has said he opposes it because it violates democratic principles.[2]

An analysis by UW political science professor Mark Smith of both candidates' jobs plans found a significant overlap in their proposals. Both want to lower healthcare costs and re-align incentives to outcomes. Both want the state to increase higher education funding, particularly in math, science and technology. Both have called for B&O tax exemptions - McKenna for amounts up to $4,800 and Inslee for small businesses who hire more workers.

McKenna's plan, however, puts more emphasis on deregulation.

Both candidates have said they want to close tax loopholes but evaded specifics, not taking on any particular tax exemption that they want to eliminate.[3]

B&O Tax

Both see a need for ramping up tax credits for small businesses. For McKenna, this would be a significant increase in the current Business & Occupation tax credit that is based on the amount of taxes due. McKenna wants to help small businesses by raising the current credit of $420 to $4,800 per year, so the smallest companies would be spared the tax until they have a chance to grow.[4]

Inslee, on the other hand, takes a more conditioned approach. He would give a B&O tax credit to small businesses that add workers, and increase the credit in proportion to the wages paid. The credit would top out at $4,000 for every job created, and the state's total payout would be capped at $8 million.[5]

Fiscal policy

An editorial by the Seattle Times finds flaws with both candidates' fiscal policy arguing that their proposals are not likely to work and they are unlikely to find the money to fund their education promises.

Inslee's plan is to stimulate job growth by offering tax breaks to technology startups. McKenna's plan is to find inefficiencies in government spending and save money.


McKenna is in favor of state standards not being stricter than federal laws unless there is strong evidence for improved public benefits. He has proposed that all regulations should be periodically reviewed for cost-effectiveness and obsolescence, including placing expiry dates for new regulations forcing a review before they are renewed.

Unemployment Insurance

McKenna wants to end the government monopoly on unemployment insurance.

Stimulus Spending and Bailouts

Inslee supported the TARP program that provided a bailout for banks in 2008.

Gambling revenues

Both candidates have opposed requiring Indian casinos to share gambling revenues with the state of Washington.[6]

Privatization of Liquour Sales

McKenna has said it is too soon to tell whether the privatization of liquor (per Initiative 1183) is working or not. Inslee has called it a mistake.

Healthcare Policy

Inslee is a strong supporter of the healthcare reform bill passed by the Obama administration in 2010. He championed two provisions in the bill:

  1. For Medicare, paying healthcare providers for quality and value, not just volume.
  2. Providing longer patent protection to biotech drugs (biologics) - 12 years instead of 5. The provision increases the cost of drugs to Medicare and private insurers, while benefiting drug companies like Amgen, which was a major donor to Inslee.

McKenna believes that some parts of Obama's healthcare bill benefit consumers but that it is "built on an unconstitutional foundation" because it requires all Americans to buy coverage. McKenna supports the lawsuit against the legislation.[7] McKenna's campaign has said he intends to focus on curbing health-care spending by Washington state in its entirety, including spending on state employees and their dependents.[8]

Both candidates want to rein in healthcare costs - McKenna by promoting health savings accounts and managed care HMOs like Group Health, and Inslee by promoting preventive care and managing chronic conditions.

Medicaid expansion

McKenna supports the new state Health Benefit Exchange, under which consumers will be able to buy private-insurance policies starting in late 2013. But he does not support the expansion of Medicaid that the health reform bill promises, saying it would be too costly. In contrast, Inslee supports the expansion of Medicaid, saying the state's 10% share of the costs is worth adding potentially 500,000 more people to Medicaid.[9]

In a debate in Vancouver, Inslee supported the expansion of Medicaid, saying it will help "get people out of the emergency room." McKenna said the full expansion would mean "nearly one in three Washington residents" would be eligible for Medicaid, calling it "the wrong vision for our state." He said after the debate he wouldn't "categorically reject" the money, but that "there are other options to get people covered."[10]

Detailed plans:

Transportation Policy

Light Rail

Jay Inslee supports Sound Transit's plan to build a light rail route from Seattle to the Eastside across I-90, a project that Rob McKenna has long opposed.[11]


McKenna has acknowledged that in the next 2-3 years, the state of Washington will need to levy new taxes to fund its transportation needs. A task force last year determined that the state needs billions of dollars of transportation spending over the next decade, and McKenna said there are economic concerns if the state fails to address the needs. Inslee has not yet taken a position on financing the state's transportation needs.[12]

Social Issues

A highlighted summary of the candidates' views on social issues can be found here.


Both candidates support Roe v. Wade and the woman's right to choose. Inslee has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. McKenna notes that he's never been endorsed by either the abortion rights group Planned Parenthood or the anti-abortion Human Life of Washington because his position isn't "pure" enough for either group.

Inslee supports a bill that failed in the Legislature this year that would have required insurance plans funded or administered by the state to cover abortions if they cover maternity care. McKenna does not support the proposed mandate.

Emergency contraception

Washington's rules require that pharmacies stock and dispense drugs for which there is a demand, including emergency contraceptives. Inslee supports these rules. As Attorney General, McKenna and his staff are representing the state of Washington in a legal battle against pharmacists who have opposed these rules, saying they infringe on their religious freedoms. McKenna has not commented publicly about his personal views on the case because the legal case is ongoing.


Both McKenna and Inslee said they support allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition at Washington universities. McKenna wants Washington state to change its laws to require proof of legal residency to get a driver's license. States typically require Social Security numbers to get a license. Inslee is not ready to support the Social Security requirement in Washington. Neither candidate supports immigration rules like those in Arizona that require police to check the immigration status of people they think are in the country illegally. Read more about the candidates' views on immigration here and here.

Gay Rights

Inslee supports marriage equality; McKenna, a Catholic, does not. McKenna has said he favors a public vote on the issue. Washington state legislature passed a bill in February 2011 legalizing same-sex marriages. Opponents of the bill have called for a referendum in November. As Attorney General, McKenna's office was in charge of wording the referendum (Referendum 74). McKenna's opponents accused him of using "politically charged language" in the description of the referendum.[13]

Inslee has called President Barack Obama's support for gay marriage an "act of moral courage" and said that he will vote Yes on Referendum 74 in November. McKenna has said he will vote No. He has, however, supported Washington's current "everything but marriage" law that grants domestic partners all the state-granted rights of marriage.[14]

Both candidates have opposed the decision by the Boy Scouts to not allow gays in its ranks.[15]

Education Policy

Both candidates have said they support higher investment in public education. McKenna has promised to increase support for colleges and K-12 education, in many ways carving it out as his signature issue. Education-advocacy group Stand for Children has endorsed McKenna’s gubernatorial campaign as a “change agent” for public schools, because they felt McKenna gave more specific answers to questions in a May 12 interview with the group.[16] His program is to limit growth of other portions of state government — he has repeatedly mentioned growing health care costs — in order to support more investments in education.

At the same event, Inslee indicated that he will spend political capital to assure competence in Washington classrooms, saying "We are no longer going to tolerate a two- to three-year delay in removing underperforming teachers from the classroom".[17] Inslee's education policy proposes all-day kindergarten, letter grades for each Washington school and an expansion of specialty programs, but no charter schools.[18] But while McKenna strongly supports merit pay, Inslee has said performance pay does not work and that he would be willing to pay teachers more for taking on mentoring roles. The state's largest teachers union, Washington Education Association, has endorsed Inslee. Inslee also disagrees with McKenna on expanding charter schools.[19][20]

Both candidates support a new law that uses improvement in student test scores as a factor in hiring, firing and tenure decisions for teachers. McKenna supports charter schools while Inslee has demurred on the issue.[21]

Both candidates have a similar position regarding funding education viz. no new taxes, find money through efficiencies and cutting healthcare costs.[22] They have been accused of being vague in their funding plans for education.[23] Outgoing governor Christine Gregoire has warned both candidates that the state needs new revenue to fund education.[24] McKenna was the first to unveil a plan to fund K-12 education. His main proposals are to swap state education levies for local levies and to allocate any revenue growth beyond 6 percent biennially solely to education.[25]

Marijuana Legalization

McKenna has opposed the legalization of marijuana, arguing that it would "sweep up" medical marijuana users. Inslee has also said he would be "uncomfortable" voting to legalize marijuana in the I-502 ballot initiative. However, his campaign is hopeful that the initiative will get more liberal voters out to the polls, thereby indirectly helping Inslee.

Both candidates agree on reclassifying marijuana as a drug that can be prescribed by doctors and filled by pharmacists. Marijuana is currently classified a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it's not accepted for medical treatment and can't be prescribed, and doctors can only "recommend" the drug.

Women's issues

Inslee has pledged to “fight back against any effort to restrict a woman’s access for emergency contraception.” He promised a renewed push for state legislation requiring that insurance plans which cover maternity care also provide abortion coverage. “I will stand up for Plan B,” Inslee said, referring to the so-called “morning after” pill.

McKenna has described very different battlefields than those characterized by Inslee. “There is a war on women,” McKenna said. “It is seen in domestic violence and in human trafficking and in underage prostitution. It involves actual physical assault on women in a variety of situations. It is in contrast to a lot of political hype. I’ve put a lot of energy into fighting this, into rallying agencies around the country on human trafficking, and strengthening laws, and in providing support for women who are victims.” McKenna said he circulated a letter supporting Congress’ renewal of the Violence Against Women Act to fellow attorneys general around the country. [26]

Differences in Foreign Policy

Position on Iraq

Inslee was in Congress when the Iraq war began. He voted against the resolution authorizing going to war with Iraq. McKenna was not in Congress at the time.


McKenna has committed to 15 debates and asked Inslee to join. Inslee declined to participate in the Association of Washington Business debate[27] but later agreed.[28]

First Debate

The first debate was held on June 12, 2012 in Spokane and was moderated by Austin Jenkins, KUOW's Olympia correspondent.

Highlights from the first debate

Here are some excerpts from coverage of the first McKenna-Inslee debate:

On funding education:

Jay Inslee declined to promise that he would add a billion dollars in the next two-year budget to improve basic education in a way demanded by the state Supreme Court in a ruling made earlier this year. His opponent, Republican Rob McKenna did, noting that $1 billion is just 3 percent of the state budget. McKenna said he would find the $1 billion to improve schools by “squeezing the existing budget,” ending some tax loopholes and reserving improved tax collections raised in an better economy to education. Inslee said he’d work toward the goal in a similar way, by focusing on job growth to raise tax revenue, closing tax loopholes, improving “preventative health care” to save money and instituting programs often used by private industry to make government more efficient. He also accused McKenna of "faulty math" because he promised to increase education funding while at the same time supporting to exempt more than 100,000 businesses from the state’s business and occupation tax.

On financial regulation:

McKenna asked Inslee if he regrets his votes in Congress to make it easier to obtain home loans with poor credit. “You voted for a series of bills that contributed to the housing crisis in America,” McKenna said. But Inslee used the question as an opportunity to stress his opposition financial industry deregulations and to link McKenna with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “The Romney-McKenna view of life is that the reason that we have problems is because of homeowners, not Wall Street,” Inslee said. “I have a fundamentally different view.”

On business regulations:

McKenna tried to portray Inslee’s view as pro-tax and pro-regulation. Businesses and the environment would be better off if federal, state and local environmental regulations were examined so that they better align, McKenna said. “The Congressman has never met a regulation he doesn’t like or that couldn’t be stricter,” he said. “The fact is that regulations have real costs and real consequences.” Inslee said McKenna’s stance is more about lowering standards than aligning them. “To go down to the federal standards, that might be fit for Mississippi for Arkansas, but they’re not fit for our state,” Inslee said.

On taxes: McKenna reiterated support for not allowing tax increases unless a two-thirds majority approves them. Inslee called this stance a subversion of the democratic process.

On transportation:

McKenna was more committed than Inslee in asking voters for a tax package to pay for several transportation projects, including work on the North Spokane freeway and the state Highway 520 bridge over Lake Washington. He pledged to take a package to the voters next year or in 2014. Inslee declined to say when he would push for a tax on for road projects, arguing that the public doesn’t trust state government.

Second Debate (Forum)

The second debate was held on June 27 in Mountlake Terrace.

AARP Forum

While not technically a debate, the candidates participated (separately) in an AARP forum to answer questions, mainly on healthcare policy. Both candidates spoke of wanting to preserve the state’s long-term care system that has helped lower costs by keeping the elderly in their homes longer and out of costly nursing homes. Their differences stemmed from how much risk each candidate wanted consumers to take. Inslee said he favored preventive care and McKenna came out in support of consumer-driven health plans that provide catastrophic coverage and reduced premiums in exchange for high deductibles. [29]

August 29 Debate

The second official debate was held at Washington State University's Vancouver campus on August 29. The full debate video is available here and TVW has a topic-by-topic coverage of the debate.

Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board interview

On September 12, the McKenna and Inslee appeared before the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board in an interview. An overview of the debate is available here.

October 2 Debate

The third official debate was held in Yakima on October 2. McKenna made a part of his opening statement in Spanish in a nod to the large Hispanic population in Yakima.

King 5 News reported on the debate that:

Read the full analysis of the third Inslee-McKenna debate.


The two candidates have received the following endorsements:

Opinion Poll Ratings

Most polls have placed McKenna ahead of Inslee but not by a huge margin. It is expected to be a close race. McKenna also has a lead in fundraising efforts. In an Elway poll of lobbyists in late April 2012, less than 1 in 4 lobbyists said they expected Inslee to win.[31] A King 5 poll in September found Inslee ahead of McKenna. The poll found that:

Poll source Date(s) administered Jay
Inslee (D)
McKenna (R)
Public Elway Poll September 9–12, 2012 44% 41%
Public Policy Polling September 7–9, 2012 48% 42%
Survey USA September 7–9, 2012 49% 44%
Survey USA August 2–3, 2012 48% 45%
Elway Poll July 18–22, 2012 43% 36%
King 5 News Jul 19, 2012 41% 42%
GS Strategy Group Jun 21, 2012 38% 38%
Public Policy Polling Jun 19, 2012 40% 43%
Elway Jun 18, 2012 40% 42%
Strategies 360 May 21-25, 2012 39% 43%
Survey USA May 8-9, 2012 38% 40%
Public Policy Polling February 16-19, 2012 42% 42%
Survey USA February 13-15, 2012 39% 49%
Elway Poll February 7-9, 2012 36% 45%
Survey USA January 12-16, 2012 43% 46%
Survey USA November 21-23, 2011 38% 44%
Washington Poll October 10-30, 2011 38% 44%
Survey USA September 21-22, 2011 38% 44%
Survey USA June 24-26, 2011 47% 44%
Public Policy Polling May 12-15, 2011 38% 40%
Survey USA April 27-28, 2011 41% 48%

Campaign Ads

Both campaigns released their first ads in July. Publicola has a good analysis of their ad campaigns, saying that McKenna's ads portray him as a nerdy, suburban dad while Inslee's ad uses images of bulldozers and portrays him as a good-looking jock. McKenna recalibrated his message in his second ad, which focuses on job creation.


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