Health reform backwash roils state politics

Acrimony and petitions are flying thick and fast in Washington now that health reform is the law of the land. Trying to keep track of the fallout here at home has been a fulltime job this week.

Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna ambushed the state’s Democratic leaders Tuesday morning with his announcement that he would join a dozen other attorneys general in challenging the constitutionality of the bill the House passed Sunday night.

In Seattle, state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz demanded to review McKenna’s correspondence “so that we can see who he is shilling for — the National Republican Party or the insurance industry?” Pelz followed that up with a fund-raising solicitation.

Seattle P-I political blogger Chris Grygiel predicted McKenna’s move would spell the end of the mild-mannered AG’s rumored plan for a run for governor in 2012.

Activists in Vancouver rallied and signed a petition supporting McKenna’s move. And on Wednesday, both leading Republican candidates for the 3rd Congressional District seat told The Columbian they support McKenna’s move.

Olympia financial consultant David Castillo said he “completely and wholeheartedly” agrees with the AG’s decision.

“The Attorney General is utilizing the system our Founders established, and he has every right to do so,” Castillo said in a written statement. “His decision to take a stand for freedom and liberty makes me that much prouder to have his endorsement.”

State Rep. Jaime Herrera, R-Camas, said: “I commend McKenna’s leadership on that. Someone needs to check the new encroachment. This is unprecedented. It’s a reach into dangerous new territory requiring citizens to buy a product from a private insurance company. It does warrant review.”

Democratic State Sen. Craig Pridemore, also a 3rd District candidate, weighed in Wednesday, accusing of McKenna of threatening the health and well-being of tens of thousands of Washington residents to further his own political agenda. Pridemore said he was launching his own petition drive to demand that the AG put the interests of Washington residents ahead of party politics.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, introduced something he called the Health Care Freedom Act for Washingtonians, which he said would prevent any fine or penalty from being imposed on individuals or families who are unable or choose not to purchase a health care plan.

Unfortunately for Benton, the state capital is all but vacant this week as House and Senate conferees continue to haggle in special session over what form of revenue increase will be the least politically toxic at the ballot box later this year.

Benton followed up Wednesday with yet another petition drive. He called on voters to take U.S. Sen. Patty Murray to task “for failing to listen to the clear voice of her constituents’ opposition to health care.” Benton called on Murray to work for repeal of the health care bill or prepare to be replaced by the voters in November.

Kathie Durbin

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