SEATTLE — Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna clashed on school funding, women’s health care and their plan for creating jobs Tuesday in a feisty final debate before voting begins in one of the nation’s most closely watched contests for governor.
With ballots going in the mail this week, the two men jabbed throughout the hourlong match-up as they worked to paint themselves as better able to bring a fresh perspective to the state’s chief executive office.
McKenna, who is trying to become the state’s first Republican governor since the 1980s, said in closing the endorsements he’s received from newspapers and centrist organizations who typically back Democrats signals a desire for a new direction.
“Do you think that you’ll be better off four years from now if we put the same people back in charge of Olympia that have been running it for 28 years?” he said looking into the camera.
Inslee, 61, a former congressman and state lawmaker, contended he will do a better job shaking up the establishment.
“Olympia needs a whole new culture of how we do business in state government and it needs a disruptive force to bring those changes,” Inslee said. “I intend to be that disruptive force.”
Tuesday marked the fifth debate and throughout McKenna, 50, was the aggressor and seemed intent on trying to provoke Inslee. He poked at his rival’s answers and more than once called him uninformed on the issues.
One tense exchange centered on an education funding proposal for school districts to collect $2 billion less in local levies and replace the money with statewide property tax dollars.
Inslee opposed the idea which he said won’t generate any additional dollars for schools while hiking property taxes for thousands of property owners. He said he will find more money for education by trimming wasteful spending, lowering health care costs and generating revenue from a revived economy.
“A plan that raises taxes on people who live in 47 percent of the school districts while not generating one single dollar for schools is not a route forward,” Inslee said.
McKenna embraces the concept drawn up by Republican and Democratic lawmakers and scoffed at his rival for not understanding it or offering an alternative.
“Congressman Inslee has no plan. He has no idea where he will get the $2 billion,” he said.
Inslee pressed on, re-asserting it will raise taxes and directed viewers to a website for details at which point McKenna interrupted. “That’s a terribly reliable source,” he said.
Asked how they would eradicate fraud from the state ferry system system, McKenna vowed to bring in new people to run it and said he would fire David Mosely, the assistant secretary of transportation in charge of Washington State Ferries.
Inslee, as he did often Tuesday, said he’d hire outsiders as well to implement “lean” management techniques aimed at improving the efficiency of the operation.
McKenna and Inslee once again pushed their differing approaches to creating jobs.
McKenna said his plan centers on lowering costs of unemployment insurance and workers compensation, reducing regulations and revamping the business and occupation tax.
Inslee said he’ll push 75 separate proposals to incite job creation and work to make Washington a leader in clean energy and other new technologies.
One testy moment came when the candidates questioned each other.
McKenna asked Inslee why he had not received endorsements from any of the state’s major daily newspapers.
“They are thoughtful people, you’ll have to ask them,” he said. “I don’t work for the newspapers of the state of Washington. I work for the people of the state of Washington.”
When Inslee got his turn, he tried to push McKenna into a corner by asking what he’s done to safeguard a woman’s right to abortion rights and access to health insurance covering abortion as well as emergency contraception.
“That’s a good question but of course the premise is false because you suggest that I haven’t clearly stated my position. In fact I think I just clearly stated it, let me think, a few days ago at the last time we had a debate,” he said.
McKenna said he would uphold the current laws that protect abortion rights.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.