Democrat Inslee will be Washington governor

Joshua Trujillo photo

Washington State Governor-elect Jay Inslee hugs outreach director Unjin Lee, the first hire made by his campaign, during a celebration on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 at the Inslee campaign headquarters in Seattle. Inslee secured victory Friday in Washington’s race for governor, triumphing over his Republican rival after a grueling campaign that drew more than $40 million in spending. GOP candidate Rob McKenna conceded defeat Friday night after late ballot returns failed to turn in his favor as the campaign had hoped.

November 9, 2012 6:22 p.m. - Updated: 9:28 p.m.

Former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, who promised to help solve Washington’s budget woes and boost its economy by trimming government and targeting industries of the future, will be the state’s next governor.

Although elections officials may not know the final results of Inslee’s high-stakes battle with Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna for more than a week, McKenna acknowledged Friday evening that he would not be able to close the gap.

McKenna conceded about 6 p.m. that he was not going to break the Democrats’ 28-year hold on the governor’s office. Less than an hour later, Inslee’s supporters shouted “Jay, Jay, Jay,” after he claimed victory and told them the state will have to pull together.

“It’s time for all of us to unite across the state of Washington to build a working Washington,” Inslee said. “I want to unite the state, east and west, urban and rural.”

Although McKenna collected majorities in all Eastern Washington counties and Inslee owes his election to a large margin he piled up in King County, the former congressman could be in a unique position to bridge the divide between Eastern and Western Washington. He’s the only person in state history to be elected to two different congressional districts: Central Washington’s 4th District, a large rural district that includes Yakima and the Tri-Cities, orchards, forests and wheat farms; and the North Puget Sound’s 1st District, which stretches from suburban Seattle to the Canadian border.

He congratulated McKenna for a “very, very vigorous campaign” and thanked him for an offer to help with the transition.

“If he has insights, we’ll use them,” Inslee said. “We’re going to all have to pull together.”

Thursday evening, McKenna campaign manager Randy Pepple insisted that their analysis of voting patterns and polling data showed the Republican would close a gap of about 50,000 votes that had existed since Election Night. Friday’s tallies, however, didn’t show enough of a shift and, “we just realized there wasn’t going to be enough of an offset,” Pepple said.

Both candidates faced the daunting prospect of a state that is scheduled to spend about $1 billion more than it can expect to collect in revenues in the next two years, and an order from the state Supreme Court to spend more on public schools to meet the state’s constitutional obligations to educate Washington children.

Neither said they would raise taxes to close the gap between money coming in and scheduled to go out. Inslee called for the state to employ smarter management techniques that are common in private businesses, find ways to slow the rapid increase in health care costs and boost key industries like aerospace, green energy and technology.

He said repeatedly he would not raise taxes, a claim the McKenna campaign suggested couldn’t be trusted. Other Democratic candidates had made similar promises in previous campaigns but changed their tune once in office.

McKenna, too, promised not to raise taxes to find money for schools.Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has struggled with the state’s budget problems for the past four years, said neither candidate was facing up to the fact that they’d need to find new revenue for schools.

Inslee said he was giving his campaign staff two days off and would begin the transition to the governor’s office next week.

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