The Boeing Aerospace Machinists are backing Democrat Jay Inslee for Governor, but the union's former political director stood front and center Thursday as a consortium of aviation businesses made a first-ever endorsement of Republican rival Rob McKenna.
The Republican candidate's education program and pledge to build the "workforce of tomorrow" is "the primary reason we are making this endorsement," said Linda Lanham, who now heads the Aerospace Future Alliance.
McKenna has sought to occupy the high ground on an issue the Democrats have owned for years in Washington -- education. He has endorsed charter schools, pledged to work toward pay-for-performance for teachers and to sharpen skills in science and mathematics.
"I think, at Boeing, the average (machinist's) age is now 50 and older, and they tell me they go through an awful lot of applicants before they get the needed set of skills," McKenna said on Thursday.
McKenna noted the deficient mathematics skills of high school graduates in the Seattle School District and, with more than 12,000 engineers at Boeing eligible to retire in the next two years, wondered whether the state's schools can supply replacements.
As McKenna spoke at a park on Lake Union, a 50-and-older but beautifully maintained Beaver float plane took off from nearby Kenmore Aviation.
Todd Banks of Kenmore, at the announcement, said "it is a challenge to find folks" with the mechanical skills his company needs, adding: "Just looking down the road, there will be more of a need for a skilled worker base."
McKenna's emphasis on education previously won him support from Stand for Children, an education reform group.
He was brisk on the agenda Thursday. Of pay-for-performance for teachers, McKenna said: "It's how the rest of the world works." He argued that a school principal should "not just be an administrator but an instructional leader" of his or her teachers.
McKenna described charter schools as "innovative" and "high performing," saying: "They ought to be available in the mix."
Lanham, the former union political agent, seems not to be phased by Democratic claims that McKenna would confront unions in the manner of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. "The issues in other states are other states' issues," she said.
The Inslee campaign, on Thursday, released a list of five debates "which we currently have on Jay's schedule." The debate schedule begins in Vancouver on Au. 29. It includes a UW-Tacoma debate, an Hispanic Chamber or Commerce-KCTS debate in Yakima, a Next 50-Seattle Center Foundation debate, and winds up with a KING/5-Seattle Times face off.
The last debate, on Oct. 11, is nearly a month before election day.
Randy Pepple, McKenna's campaign manager, shot back that Inslee is "turning down a general election debate in Spokane, and ignoring debate offers from two of the major TV stations in Seattle."
He charged that Inslee "does not want to debate in Olympia, Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities despite invites from respected civic organizations."