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Inslee visits Kent, attacks McKenna for 'playing politics' with gay marriage

Jay Inslee, left, Democratic candidate for governor, chats with World CNG employee Larry Been, during a stop Tuesday, March 13 at the Kent business.  - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Jay Inslee, left, Democratic candidate for governor, chats with World CNG employee Larry Been, during a stop Tuesday, March 13 at the Kent business.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Jay Inslee, Democratic candidate for governor, didn't hesitate to take a shot at Republican candidate Rob McKenna's stance against legalizing same-sex marriage during a media tour Tuesday at a Kent small business.

Inslee supports gay marriage. McKenna, the state attorney general, opposes it.

So when a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that the phrase "redefine marriage," had to be removed from a proposed referendum seeking to overturn the new law legalizing gay marriage, Inslee jumped at the chance to comment about the decision in front of a television camera and a few reporters.

"It's gratifying that the court is going to allow voters to make the commonsense fair decision about this important matter," Inslee said. "It's very disappointing it took a court to force our attorney general to follow the law and stop him frankly from playing politics with this important matter."

McKenna, as attorney general, and his staff are in charge of writing ballot language for referendums and initiatives. Opponents of Referendum 74 challenged the proposed ballot measure language chosen by McKenna because "redefine marriage to allow same sex couples to marry" is biased in favor of support for the referendum that would overturn the law to allow gay marriage.

Judge Thomas McPhee ordered the phrase "redefine marriage" to be removed. Backers of the referendum can now seek the 120,577 valid signatures needed by June 6 to send the measure to voters in November, when they also will elect a new governor.

"I've been married for 39 years and I don't believe the attorney general or any other politician should be able to tell any of my neighbors who to marry," Inslee said. "This is a private right. It ought to be protected. Thanks to a judge to stand up and not allow this attorney general to play politics with marriage."

Charles McCray, spokesman for McKenna's campaign, said he could not respond to Inslee's criticism of the ballot measure language chosen by McKenna.

"We have to keep a thick line between the campaign and the attorney general's work," McCray said.

McKenna, in response to the judge's ruling, issued the following statement through an email from Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office:

“The Attorney General’s Office strives to put forth fair and neutral language for every ballot title as we did in this case," McKenna said. "Notably, Judge McPhee's final ballot title does not include the phrase 'redefine marriage.' That phrase was the subject of much discussion in the ballot title hearing. In his oral ruling, Judge McPhee explained that he did not remove the phrase because he thought it created undue prejudice.

"He acknowledged that the bill does, in fact, redefine marriage in the literal sense that it amends the statutory definition of 'marriage.' He said he removed it solely out of a concern for length — he needed the words for other reasons. We hope both sides are satisfied with this ruling.”

Inslee, who announced last week that he would resign March 20 from Congress to focus full-time on running for governor, wants to make each candidate's stance on gay marriage a key issue. Inslee, of Bainbridge Island, has represented the 1st Congressional District since 1999.

Recent polls show a tight race between McKenna, 49, and Inslee, 61. Inslee has raised $4.2 million and McKenna $3.7 million, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission website as of March 13. McKenna is trying to become the first Republican governor to win an election since John Spellman in 1980.

Inslee stopped in Kent at World CNG as part of his jobs tour with area companies to demonstrate job potential in the state's clean tech industry. Kent-based World CNG, which employs 26, converts vehicles to compressed natural gas from conventional gasoline.

"This is a perfect example of what we're capable of doing if we have a jobs program that will help new innovative companies get going," Inslee said. "I have some ideas of how to do that running for governor we have a jobs program that's going to build on your success where you take people with a good idea technologically, marry it with a little capital and you put 26 people to work with a new technology that's helped Washington's air be cleaner."

World CNG has outfitted about 200 taxis to run on natural gas, including taxis that serve Sea-Tac Airpot. The company also converts work trucks and cargo vans to natural gas. With the support of Inslee, World CNG received $3.5 million in stimulus funds as part of the Obama Administration's Recovery Act Grant in 2009.

A conversion from gasoline to natural gas costs anywhere from $7,000 to $12,000 per vehicle, but the cost of natural gas is about $1.60 per gallon.

Inslee also visited Shuttle Express on Wednesday in Renton. Shuttle Express is working with World CNG to convert its fleet of 80 vehicles to natural gas.

Meanwhile, McKenna visits Kent on Friday, March 16 at the ShoWare Center to speak at a business luncheon presented by Pacific Printing Industries in partnership with the Kent Chamber of Commerce and Carlson Advisors. The luncheon starts at 11:30 a.m.

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