McKenna, Ladenburg take off gloves

BLAINE, Whatcom county – Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and challenger John Ladenburg, a Democrat, clashed on just about every subject Thursday during a lively 60-minute debate.

Ladenburg picked up where he left off during their first debate last week in Gig Harbor, criticizing McKenna for having what he said is a thin résumé and accusing him of failing to protect Washington consumers.

McKenna hit back more forcefully than in their first exchange, defending his experience by saying, “I think John is the only person in the state that doesn’t believe being attorney general of the State of Washington for four years is a qualification to run for attorney general.”

McKenna also took shots at Ladenburg, the two-term Pierce County executive, for failing to win his own county in the August primary election.

The debate was sponsored by the Association of Washington Business and held at the organization’s annual policy summit at the Semiahmoo Resort.

The verbal salvos drew laughter from the audience on a few occasions and prompted moderator C.R. Douglas to note what a difference it makes to have two people participating. (Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland failed to arrive in time for the day’s first debate, but the group stuck to its schedule and posed questions to challenger Peter Goldmark.)

The candidates continued to differ on such topics as mortgage fraud, identity theft and methamphetamine use. Ladenburg said McKenna hasn’t done enough to protect consumers regarding the first two, and Ladenburg took credit for a meth crackdown that began in Pierce County.

The debate also touched on new ground when Ladenburg asked McKenna why he didn’t recuse himself from lawsuits his office filed last week against the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Master Builders Association of Snohomish and King counties. The civil lawsuits allege campaign violations against the groups for failing to register as political action committees. Ladenburg said the BIAW contributed $181,000 to McKenna four years ago.

McKenna said he won’t influence the attorneys who are handling the case, and he asked Ladenburg about a case in which one of his nephews was prosecuted for robbery. Ladenburg said he didn’t work on the case.

Ladenburg repeated a line from their first debate, asking why the people of Washington have to “Get Jesse” – a reference to the KING-5 consumer reporter – instead of their attorney general.

“Look for results,” Ladenburg said.

McKenna shot back, asking why it is that Ladenburg’s home county has the state’s biggest meth problem.

“I say, ‘Yeah, look for results,’” McKenna said.

When it was his turn to question Ladenburg, McKenna asked about the results of the primary election in August.

“Why do you think it is that the voters who know you best didn’t vote for you?” McKenna asked, referring to his six-point victory in Pierce County.

Ladenburg said it was because voter turnout was low, and then he tried to change the subject, saying that wasn’t the point. The point, he said, is to decide who has the best résumé for the job.

“You can’t name a function of the office that I haven’t personally done,” said Ladenburg, who previously served 14 years as Pierce County prosecutor.

During his rebuttal, McKenna said that Pierce County voter turnout in August was 40.65 percent, compared to 42 percent statewide.

“I don’t think it was low turnout,” he said.

Before his election as attorney general four years ago, McKenna was elected to three terms on the King County Council and previously worked for the Perkins Coie law firm in Bellevue.

Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542