Republican Rob McKenna, the state’s leading Republican figure after his vigorous run for governor last year, probably isn’t coming back to public life as a candidate any time soon. But his new web site devoted to “smarter government” ideas is up and running. Within weeks the former Washington attorney general’s other forays back into public policy and politics should become clearer as the details of his nascent and nonprofit Reform Alliance (aka REAL) organization is birthed.
“Today we launch my new website, which will replace my RobMcKenna.org campaign site,” McKenna wrote on his site, which will carry a blog with his ideas. “The new site, SmarterGovernmentWA.org, will provide a collaborative forum for sharing ideas from people around the state on how policy makers can improve our state government. The website will also allow me to share with you examples of good work being done by those committed to government reform in Washington State and around the country.”
McKenna said after losing the governor’s race to Democrat Jay Inslee last November that he wasn’t going to run for governor in 2016, and he reiterated that stance in an interview Monday with state Republican Party chairman Kirby Wilbur, who was serving as a guest host on KVI Radio.
McKenna said he was “happy to be back in the private sector … recharging my batteries and my bank account’’ and added:
I look forward to supporting a candidate for governor in 2016 who is free market oriented and who comes out of the private sector or with some private sector experience and understands how to make government more efficient or leaner or smarter. But that candidate won’t be me.”
The governor’s race was a crushing loss for Republicans in a race where the wonkier candidate (McKenna) once led convincingly in polls. The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner postedthis sketch of McKenna’s latest venture last week.
Brunner’s account noted that McKenna’s new 501(C)(4) group might be financed using leftover campaign cash:
REAL was seeded with a $5,000 donation from McKenna’s surplus gubernatorial campaign funds in March. But the money had to be returned because REAL was not properly registered as a charitable organization with the state at the time of the donation. (State law restricts use of surplus campaign funds to several specific options, including refunds to donors, a gift to the state general fund, or a gift to a charity.)
We didn’t catch up with McKenna Monday, but his campaign manager from 2012, Randy Pepple, told us that McKenna’s new organization won’t play a role like that of Dino Rossi, the Republican candidate for governor who lost in 2004 then created the Forward Washington group that helped renew his public profile before he ran against Gov. Chris Gregoire again in 2008.
“The outcome is going to be different, because Dino ultimately decided to run again. Rob has made it very clear he’s not running again,’’ Pepple said. “Might he run someday? Sure, but he’s given 17 years public service and it’s time to return to the private sector.’’
McKenna has joined private Seattle law firm Orrick,Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP as a partner and co-leader of the international law firm’s public-policy group that works with such clients as Microsoft and T-Mobile.
So what will McKenna’s new Reform Alliance do? Pepple said they aren’t going to say until the organization’s registration is approved by state authorities. Papers on file with the Office of the Secretary of State show McKenna is listed as chairman and Pepple, consultant Mariana Parks and two others – Lisa Shin and Diego Trejo – are listed as directors.
McKenna’s semi-retirement from public life bears a faint resemblance to that of another state-government technocrat – former Gov. Gary Locke. Locke earned big bucks by going into lucrative international trade law before reemerging as U.S. Commerce Department secretary and more recently ambassador to China.
Among reasons Pepple gave for McKenna not running in 2016 is that he would need to start a campaign in 2015 at a time he and his wife Marilyn McKenna expect to have three kids in college (the eldest in law school at Stanford) and one high school student thinking about college.