In case you missed it, Rob McKenna, our Republican attorney general, joined several other Republican attorneys general in launching a lawsuit challenging the federal government over the newly passed health care bill. He made a big splash and got a great deal of blowback including one of the more ferocious rants I have seen Gregoire deliver in a while. Check it out in its entirety here:
I am going to leave the legal merit of the challenge for those of you who have law degrees. I have read up on it and on the face it does not seem to hold water. Federal law trumps any state objections and this seems like a pretty clear-cut case of federalism, but like I said, I will leave that to people who know what they are talking about.
The question that springs to mind is, "Why?" Why did Rob McKenna join this lawsuit? As with every political decision, you must look at the pros and cons. At first glance it seems foolish, but the more you look into it, the more it makes sense.
Rob McKenna is running for governor. We have known this for a while. He has hired some of the top Republican media talent, has been locking in some of the old Rossi team and raising his statewide profile. As a Republican in a pretty blue state, he has touted his bipartisanship steadily for the last two terms. He worked amicably with Gregoire on school bullying and consumer protection and won over a number of newspapers by championing sunshine laws that ensure better access to public documents.
He won his last election by a healthy margin against Democratic opponent, John Lautenberg, and has been riding pretty high on great approval ratings from both Democrats and Republicans. He was well positioned to run for governor as a moderate and win against probable opponent Jay Inslee.
Then he goes and launches the lawsuit, and within hours he is blasted by unions, Democrats, elected officials and newspapers. “Blatantly Partisan,” “Political Showboating,” “Doesn’t represent me.” Rough stuff. So why would he toss away the moderate image he had worked so hard to maintain? Does he really feel this lawsuit is worth gambling his political future?
To understand why, we need to look at two people: Charlie Crist and Dino Rossi. Charlie Crist is the moderate Republican governor of Florida who is now running for Senate. I say moderate Republican but the chances of him remaining so are dwindling every month. Two years ago this would have been a safe bet, but in the last year the Tea Party has thrown its support (and that of Fox News) behind one Marco Rubio, a far right conservative and proud Tea Partier. Suddenly Crist went from leading the polls by 20 points to fighting for his life as the Republican party struggles for ideological purity.
At the same time, Dino Rossi was in DC meeting with the top GOP muckimucks about a possible run against Patty Murray this year. Whether or not it will actually pan out, suddenly McKenna had to worry about his flank. We have an active Tea Party here and they would primary McKenna if they felt it necessary. All those photo shoots with Gregoire would come back, bright and vivid, haunting him at every campaign stop. What good was a great general election strategy if you can’t make it through the primary?
So McKenna gambled. He jogged hard to right. He joined his Tea Party brethren in an Icarian flight near the sun. Soon the legal feathers will melt off and he will have to face the deep blue ocean that is Washington State. We will see if he sinks or swims then, but at least now, we know why.