Posted by: sweeneyblog | May 15, 2012

Legislative Junkie: Rob McKenna, Marriage Equality and Jay Inslee

Editor’s Note: Here is another update from our correspondent in Olympia, the Legislative Junkie. You can find all of his other posts here.

Why Barack Obama’s Support for Marriage Equality Matters to Jay Inslee

And Why Rob McKenna Doesn’t Want to Talk About It

Guest Post: The Legislative Junkie

Yes, Barack Obama is the first president to publicly support marriage equality. Yes, this is a huge step for societal and political acceptance of queer rights and queer people, one that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Yes, the President’s announcement will actually make people’s lives better. But we know what you are really thinking: how – and why – does this affect the Washington State governor’s race?*

Democrats clearly think that marriage equality and broader “social issues” could be the deciding factor in the November elections. Jay Inslee supports marriage equality and Rob McKenna opposes it. Inslee and his surrogates have been trying to use Rob McKenna’s opposition to marriage equality as a wedge against him for months. But McKenna has been able to pivot in a way that furthers his moderate reputation, saying each time, “My position is the same as the President’s.” So long as the president was still “evolving” on this issue, McKenna could strike a moderate pose.** But now that President Obama has fully evolved, the lines are much clearer. And Rob McKenna needs the votes of marriage equality-supporters to win the governor’s race.


Rob McKenna has been able to win consistently in dark-blue Washington State with the support of fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters. While these voters exist across the state, they are concentrated in suburban King County, especially in five legislative districts: the 5th, the 41st, the 45th, the 47th, and the 48th.

Legislative Districts

Voters in these districts have tended to split their tickets, voting for Democrats for president and Republicans for governor and attorney general. In 2004, these districts all went for John Kerry for president, Dino Rossi for governor, and Rob McKenna for attorney general. In 2008, they all went for Barack Obama, they split between Gregoire and Rossi, and went almost 2 to 1 for McKenna. When you add the districts together and compare their results to the statewide results, Democratic presidential candidates have overperformed, while Republican gubernatorial and attorney general candidates have also overperformed. These voters are the reason Rob McKenna keeps getting elected.

And they are pro-gay.

All five senators (4 Republicans and 1 “Democrat***”) from these districts voted for marriage equality this year. Of the districts’ 10 representatives in Olympia, (3 Republicans and 7 Democrats), eight voted for marriage equality. In 2009, Referendum 71 (the “everything but marriage” referendum) passed in four of the five districts. When taken together, R-71 passed by 57% in these five districts, while it passed by only 52% statewide. These voters are both more pro-McKenna and more pro-gay than Washington State as a whole.

Rob McKenna and queer rights have never been on the ballot together – until this November.

These districts – and this kind of voter in general – will make the difference in the governor’s race. We know that Washington State will vote to re-elect Obama, and it’s likely that we will pass marriage equality as well. McKenna can’t get elected without pro-equality votes, and a Republican gubernatorial candidate isn’t going to support marriage equality, so his choice (and the broader GOP choice) is clear: talk about something else. This is why McKenna has been hiding behind Obama, it’s why Inslee has been reminding voters about McKenna’s stance on social issues at every turn, and it’s why Barack Obama came to Seattle the day after announcing his support for marriage equality. If Washington voters cast ballots for governor based on marriage equality, access to healthcare, and women’s rights, Inslee wins. If they decide based on the economy, education, and taxes, then McKenna has a shot.

*You aren’t actually thinking about this, are you?
**McKenna has taken this moderate stance while using his office to draft an official ballot description for R-74 that drew from the talking points of marriage equality opponents.
*** Rodney Tom


  1. The issue isn’t marriage equality, it’s equal treatment under the law which shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote.
    One might think that Mr. McKenna would be the first in line with that argument as We The People’s AG.
    Funny how pandering stands in for character during the quest for your vote.
    I think Americans should be more impressed with a strongly held and well-defended position than they are to hear words carefully crafted to fog the issues depending upon who’s listening.

  2. […] and Kirkland. It’s voting patterns are typical of the suburban King County swing districts I’ve written about before on this blog – socially liberal, big business Democrats – the kind that are pro-marriage equality […]

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