BELLEVUE, Wash. — Attorney General Rob McKenna formally entered Washington's campaign for governor Wednesday, declaring that Olympia is long overdue for change and that he's the candidate to bring a renewed focus on fiscal discipline.
Addressing hundreds of supporters at the Bellevue high school where he graduated, McKenna said ballooning state spending and regulations are suppressing job growth and thwarting crucial investments in public education.
"The fact of the matter is that the direction we are headed in is simply unsustainable," McKenna said. He kept his first campaign event casual, pacing a stage, interacting with the crowd, laying out plans on a large whiteboard and only glancing at pages of notes in his hand.
McKenna provided a more detailed account of how he would control state costs in an interview with The Associated Press, where he focused on pressuring state agencies to get more done with fewer employees working with less benefits. He believes state workers can be more efficient and that departments need to shrink their personnel through attrition.
"Fewer people doing more work — that's the answer," McKenna said.
McKenna argued that more state services should be considered for outsourcing, forcing state workers to bid against the private sector. He said two places to start would be data-center services and the state printer.
"The goal is not to privatize everything the state does," McKenna said. "The goal is to try and find the most cost-effective way to deliver quality services. Many times that's going to be through the use of state workers — but (with) improved processes."
While he would not move to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for state employees, McKenna said he wants the Legislature to have more oversight of their contracts, arguing that state officials have failed to represent the interests of taxpayers in the bargaining process. As one area to focus on, McKenna said state employees should pay more for their health benefits.
McKenna said the new fiscal discipline would help open up more cash for public education. He believes this would attract more jobs along with reforms to make the state more business-friendly by reducing costs in the workers' compensation system and lowering regulatory hurdles for businesses.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, said this week she hasn't made a decision about whether to seek a third term. She plans to decide by the end of this month. U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee is widely considered a leading Democratic candidate if Gregoire decides to step away.
McKenna's political career started as the student president at the University of Washington in 1984. That was around the same time that Washington's last Republican governor was departing the job.
After spending several years on the King County Council, McKenna was elected attorney general in 2004. In that position, he's focused on battling sex offenders, identity theft and methamphetamine abuse.