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Originally published August 29, 2012 at 10:59 PM | Page modified August 30, 2012 at 1:33 PM

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McKenna takes jabs at Inslee in debate

Rob McKenna played the aggressor Wednesday night in the first General Election debate of a close gubernatorial race, seeking to draw contrasts...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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VANCOUVER — Rob McKenna played the aggressor Wednesday night in the first General Election debate of a close gubernatorial race, seeking to draw contrasts with opponent Jay Inslee on education, jobs, health care and management practices.

McKenna, a Republican and state attorney general, repeatedly jabbed Inslee, saying the Democratic ex-congressman "has gotten so used to the same falsehoods that he has started to believe it."

He also implied that Inslee is misleading voters about his tax policy — that he won't raise taxes and he called Inslee's "green" jobs plan a "Solyndra-style economic policy," a reference to the solar company supported by President Obama that recently went bankrupt and has become a Republican talking point.

Inslee was less feisty and often on the defensive in the debate on the campus of Washington State University-Vancouver.

The debate, the second of the gubernatorial race, came three weeks after Inslee narrowly bested McKenna in the primary election.

Among the contrasts between the candidates was Medicaid policies. Inslee said he would accept money from the federal government to expand the program under the Obama's Affordable Care Act, something McKenna termed the "wrong vision."

"The idea that our vision that one in three would be eligible for Medicaid, I think is the wrong vision for our state," said McKenna, who said, however, that he may be open to accepting some of the expansion.

In other issues, Inslee said he will push for light rail on the new Columbia River Crossing, when it is built, while McKenna said he wasn't sure voters wanted it. Instead, McKenna stressed that the federal government needs to pay more for the project.

Currently Washington, Oregon and the federal government are each to pay a third of the cost.

One area in which there was no disagreement was taxes. Both candidates said they would not push for any new taxes if elected.

But McKenna said he was suspicious of Inslee's use of the present tense in the phrase "I am not proposing taxes," saying that Inslee could very well do just that in the future, once he's elected.

Inslee quickly clarified that he will not support new taxes in the future.

"Let's get rid of that red herring right now," he said.

Throughout the debate, each candidate tried to blame the other for the state government's budget trouble.

"You can choose the same tired old path that we've been following for the past 28 years," said McKenna, referring to the fact that a Republican governor has not been elected in seven cycles, "or you can choose a new direction."

But Inslee said it is McKenna who has been in Olympia for the past seven years, as attorney general, and he, Inslee, could shake it up.

Specifically, he said he would implement common-sense fixes and "lean management practices" used by private companies such as Boeing.

McKenna said he would institute tax and regulatory relief. He said Inslee's emphasis on encouraging clean-energy jobs entailed picking winners and losers.

"We are not picking winners, except for Washington," Inslee retorted.

Both candidates said they would push for more funding for K-12 and higher education.

In discussion of health care, an awkward moment arose when Inslee spoke about his plan. He mentioned that most people know someone who has had breast cancer.

McKenna, whose late mother had breast cancer, said he "deeply resents politicizing that," prompting Inslee to say that he knows McKenna is a good son.

The debate ended on a light note, as moderator Brian Wood of Portland's KATU television station asked a series of questions about topics such as food preferences (Inslee likes clams; McKenna prefers mussels).

The candidates have two more debates scheduled in October: one in Yakima and one in Seattle sponsored by The Seattle Times and KING-TV.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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