This election cycle, Republican candidate for Washington governor Rob McKenna has been stalked by a nearly omnipresent group of paid and volunteer Democratic trackers whose sole job is to monitor where a candidate goes and what a candidate says, and to fluster them whenever possible. Whoever said Democrats don’t like to hunt?
On Tuesday, the Democratic stalking morphed into full-on bushwhackery when Kendra Obom—a YMCA worker and Democratic Party volunteer—pounced on McKenna as he exited a downtown Seattle hotel after attending a fisheries conference.
Holding a digital recording device and refusing to identify herself, Obom asked McKenna to give his position on the Reproductive Parity Act, a piece of legislation that forces insurers to cover abortion as long as they also want to continue covering maternity care.
Right away, McKenna asked Obom to stop recording and suggested that she was trying to ambush him, but Obom pursued. From that point McKenna’s posture toward her as she followed him down what appears to be Fifth Avenue became tense, then tenser and then downright surly, culminating in his telling Obom to “go get a job.”
In all fairness, it was not one of the candidate’s finest moments and Democrats have seized upon the mistake by popping the cork on a two-day fiesta of gleeful McKenna-bashing. Come to think of it, can anyone really blame Democrats for taking a few days to vaporize the Republican frontrunner’s piñata because he lost his cool, going all the way from calm to seriously peeved? Since its official launch last summer, the Inslee campaign has been at its best a sleeper and at its worst a train wreck. Amid months of gloom and lowered expectations about Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jay Inslee, a moment of adulation and glee has to be savored in the same way a starving person savors a few grains of rice.
Whether lurching from forward to reverse several times on whether to accept a debate invitation from the Association of Washington Business, or mistiming his decision to resign from Congress so badly that it triggered a confusing $1 million special election, or holding fundraisers with several of the Democratic Party’s most notable womanizers (dirtbag number one and dirtbag number two), or attempting to conduct his campaign’s finances in such a questionable way that even the Associated Press could not avoid writing about it, or even—and this goes way back—to holding his campaign kickoff last June in the South Lake Union offices of Targeted Growth, Inc., a firm whose lobbyists had also donated significant amounts to Inslee’s congressional campaigns, Campaign Inslee has had at least its fair share of credibility-bruising setbacks.
Despite the seductive political gains struggling politicians and political parties can achieve by using ambush tactics to generate viral-worthy material, good public policy is the only real casualty of this brand of warfare.
By framing public debate with sloganeering and street theatrics, some very, very, very important nuances tend to be ignored. In the case of Obom’s purported cause of concern—the Reproductive Parity Act—on the question of whether a new government mandate on insurers to provide abortion coverage and maternity coverage (or provide neither), there are serious implications to be discussed and the forum of gotcha street journalism does not provide for such discourse.
Had Obom identified herself, asked for a moment of the candidate’s time and generally behaved like a civilized person, she might have received what she was asking for, a statement of the candidate’s position on the legislation like the one McKenna released yesterday:
I support our existing, voter-approved state law which guarantees women access to insurance coverage for reproductive healthcare. I do not support changing the law in a way that could put federal funding of women’s healthcare at risk. Supporters of changes to our existing state law evidently believe that the new federal healthcare law will jeopardize women’s access to health insurance which covers reproductive healthcare; if true, that would be an unfortunate consequence of a massive bill which few in Congress bothered to read before voting on it.
Though McKenna’s position may be one Obom and most liberal Democrats do not like or agree with, it nonetheless expresses a thorough assessment of the legal and fiscal realities of a radical legislative maneuver. It is a mature response to a complex question.
Not that McKenna’s statement does not still leave many stem issues from the Reproductive Parity Act uncovered. It does not speak to the First Amendment implications of the Reproductive Parity Act in the interference of rights of religious institutions and individuals to refrain from activities that would conflict with their faith. Neither does it open a dialogue about whether giving insurers an abortion coverage ultimatum could, in some cases, create an incentive to drop costly maternity coverage if premium increases resulting from the new mandates were projected to lose policyholders.
I’ll go out on a limb to suggest that the best way to flesh out details of McKenna’s thoughts on those branch issues will not be to anonymously thrust an iPhone under his chin and begin a streetside interrogation.
Furthermore, despite its gray areas, McKenna’s position still comes across as far more thoughtful than Inslee’s which represents little more than a recitation of Democratic party doctrine on abortion for more than two decades.
In contrast, McKenna’s position disdains demagoguery and by doing so conveys leadership. In that way, the Democratic attempt to frame McKenna as an extremist is an ironic failure, an episode of engineered chaos that produced a moment of personal frustration, not a display of ideological extremism.