McKenna backs new Interstate 5 bridge

In Vancouver, GOP gubernatorial hopeful says he doesn't understand conflict over project

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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The day after he received a preliminary second-place showing in Washington's top two primary election, gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna spoke at a Rotary Club meeting in Vancouver.

McKenna, the state's Republican attorney general, said he supported building a new bridge over the Columbia River, although he still hasn't made his mind up on the specifics.

"There has to be a new crossing," McKenna said in response to a question about the proposed Columbia River Crossing project to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge. "We can't sit back and continue to consume what we have and not replace it. And it's absolutely vital to our economy."

McKenna also said he was struck by all of the conflicting views in Southwest Washington when it comes to the CRC.

"I know there are at least a few people who don't think it needs to be replaced at all, and I'm still trying to understand that," he told the Rotary Club of Vancouver on Wednesday at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay. "That corridor is too vital to allow it to fall into the river, so we have to figure out what the right replacement looks like, what we can afford, when it needs to be done — all of that."

The candidate for governor spoke for nearly 20 minutes. He provided a summary of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on health care policy — a policy he had challenged in court, over the objections of Gov. Chris Gregoire — and touched on the major platforms of his campaign: job creation, education reform and government reform. He then spent about 10 minutes answering questions from Rotary members.

During his visit, McKenna made it clear that he supports the charter school initiative on the ballot this November. That initiative would allow Washington state to have charter schools, which are privately operated but publicly financed.

"We ought to have that option available to us," McKenna said. "It ought to be in the mix."

McKenna declined to answer any follow-up questions from The Columbian after the Rotary meeting. A member of his campaign staff, Scott Tollefson, said McKenna was on a tight schedule.

McKenna will be back in Vancouver on Friday for a breakfast fundraiser featuring Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The event, which takes place at Heathman Lodge, is closed to the public and press. The 9 a.m. breakfast costs $250 per person. Guests also can pay $5,000 to attend a private roundtable discussion at 8 a.m., and then participate in a photo-op and reception with Christie at 8:30 a.m.

McKenna and Christie also are hosting a rally this afternoon in Bellevue that is open to the public.

Statewide, McKenna received nearly 43 percent of the preliminary primary vote while his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, received more than 47 percent of the vote, according to numbers available early Wednesday evening. In Clark County, McKenna had a better showing. He received about 44 percent of the vote, while Inslee pulled in about 33 percent.

The primary results in the vote-by-mail election have yet to be finalized because some mail ballots are still being tallied or haven't come in yet.