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Originally published April 21, 2013 at 5:53 AM | Page modified April 21, 2013 at 12:40 PM

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The newly irrepressible Marilyn McKenna

With the governor’s race behind her, Marilyn McKenna takes to Twitter to let her own voice be heard, talking weight loss, eating right and hunky lifeguards.

Seattle Times columnist

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Let me get this straight - she lost a lot of weight because she had lap-band surgery... MORE
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“You can’t print half of what I say,” Marilyn McKenna declared, before I’d even had a sip of my latte.

I couldn’t tell if she’s talking about this conversation, or her recent flurry of tweets, which have kicked up plenty of chatter after the cursory Quiet Period following her husband Rob McKenna’s defeat in the November governor’s race.

Back then, Marilyn McKenna, 50, was simply seen as the campaigning spouse, smiling and shaking hands — even taking the stage at a Korean community center to dance Gangnam style. (Oh, the things people do to get elected.)

But in the time since, McKenna has gone off the politically-correct grid in the interest of finding her own voice, and promoting a book she’s writing about better eating.

That includes tweeting her unfiltered observations some 20 times a day.

It’s a dangerous habit.

McKenna has called Inslee “a legitimate moron”; said that she would eat dog food if it had peanut butter on it; and admitted to ogling the much-younger lifeguard at the local YMCA.

“What can I say? I’m married, not dead,” she told me the other week. “Twitter is fun. I enjoy talking to people. I use it like you would a diary.”

So what brought on the change from quiet, conservative political wife to someone who admits to sleeping in a Hooters T-shirt?

Well, in part, 120 pounds gone, since she had lap-band surgery in 2007.

The experience has spurred her to start a book called “Eat Like It Matters,” for which she has no agent or publisher, but has already started a blog and secured a website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

There are those who have criticized McKenna for banking on her husband’s name to sell her book and, in a way, herself.

At this, she rolls her eyes.

“You’d be stupid not to take advantage of Rob’s celebrity,” she said.

All right, then. Back to the lap band, which McKenna more confessed to than shared — and which she defended with vehemence.

The $18,000 procedure came after what McKenna called a “perfect storm” of feeling she was doing everything for other people — her husband, their four kids, politics — but not doing it very well.

It all broke wide open one day in 2007. McKenna was working as a paralegal at a downtown law firm when something happened that she wouldn’t discuss, beyond this: “I was coming up short everywhere.”

So she quit, came home and told her husband that she couldn’t do it all anymore.

“And I asked myself, what would it look like if I got to decide what happiness looked like for me?” McKenna recalled.

For starters, it would look thinner than she did at 265 pounds.

“I saw myself as a woman who almost apologized for taking up space,” McKenna said. “It feels like you’re wearing your deepest, darkest failing. What you’re not able to control. People see that you can’t control that, and they judge you for it.

“My purpose, I realized, was to not be fat and miserable for the rest of my life.”

She had already tried Weight Watchers at age 10, hypnosis and even a 12-step recovery program. It was time for something more drastic.

They refinanced their Bellevue house to pay for the surgery.

“But so what?” she asked. “This was the beginning of me finding my own voice. I don’t need to ask permission from anyone. This is valuable to me. This is what I need to be better.”

In the first year, she lost 85 pounds and changed the way she ate — and how her family ate at home.

Her book, “Eat Like it Matters,” is for families trying to eat healthier against the constraints of time and money, and the reality that kids get no PE at school, and too much screen time at home.

It’s also about exercise, McKenna’s passion. She runs more than 20 miles a week, and has become brutally honest with herself about what she eats.

“I’ve been raising four children for 25 years,” McKenna explained, “so this feels like a different place. I allow myself other pleasures besides food.”

McKenna grew up in Michigan, and moved to Spokane with her mother after her parents divorced.

There wasn’t much of a plan when she landed at the University of Washington, beyond becoming a history major.

“I wanted to have fun and be on my own and far away from home.”

She met Rob McKenna through a sorority sister. He was the second boyfriend she ever had. They will be married 26 years in September.

“We have always been very supportive of and loyal to each other,” she said. “I would never say or do anything that would embarrass him.”

You hope that promise holds. She’s a bit of a loose cannon, the life of the party, while Rob McKenna looks like he’d rather wait outside in a station wagon, listening to NPR.

That’s not lost on her.

“He’s very polished and disciplined, and I’m just not,” she said. “When I was fat, I kept my emotions all bottled. But when I got to be the one who decided what was good enough for me ...”

Well, then everything changed — even her politics.

McKenna had her own kind of coming out after the election when she publicly supported gay marriage — a stance her husband doesn’t share.

“I did a one-eighty four or five years ago,” she said. “I got to know enough gay people to know it’s just stupid that they not have the rights that any other couple has. Everyone benefits when couples are committed to each other.”

She didn’t say anything sooner, she said, “Because I wasn’t running for anything.”

For her husband, being against same-sex marriage “was more of a religious decision.” (Although, Rob McKenna does support civil unions).

“I hate to say his thinking will ‘evolve’, because it sounds so condescending,” Marilyn McKenna said of her husband. “His feelings may change as society changes. But I’m totally OK with us not agreeing on it.”

What won’t change is Marilyn McKenna’s need to be heard, whether it’s on Twitter or, perhaps, in a bookstore someday soon.

“I’m just not going to be concerned with what other people think.”

Tweet that.

Nicole Brodeur: nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

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Every Sunday, I bring you a conversation with a local who is doing something great, or a great who is doing something local: media personalities, big thinkers, visiting artists, colorful characters and doers of all kinds.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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