McKenna's high school years showed skill for politics

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by ROBERT MAK / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on October 9, 2012 at 5:55 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 9 at 5:58 PM

On Thursday, Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna will debate everything from education to health care. Whichever candidate becomes governor will face issues that could not be predicted during the campaign.

And that’s why KING 5 wanted to learn more about who these candidates are. To do that, KING 5 went back in time – to see how their high school years shaped who they are today.

Rob McKenna, the Republican attorney general who is running to become Washington’s next governor, didn’t move to his “home” state until he was in high school, arriving in Bellevue in the mid-1970s after his father retired from the military.

As a new kid at Sammamish High School, McKenna didn’t hide in the shadows.

"Most of my classmates had grown up together, they had gone to elementary school together, to junior high school together, so here I am coming in partly through our sophomore year as the new kid,” McKenna reflected. "They were very welcoming, and one of the ways I got to know people was to get very involved in the school community."

As a military kid, McKenna spent much of his youth in Germany, Thailand and San Francisco.  "I think what a lot of us have in common who grew up in the military, is the ability to adapt, because you're moving every few years, you're making a new set of friends, you're adapting to new surroundings,” he said.

For McKenna, debate became his team sport.

"Rob's the kind of guy who you could debate a political point with, and actually get some common ground,” said Martha Raymond, a Seattle attorney who was McKenna’s debate partner back at Sammamish High.

"And I remember a couple times just looking at Rob and thinking, ‘I hope he comes up with something.’ And he usually did, he thinks really quickly on his feet,” she said.

McKenna was also copy editor on the student newspaper, writing articles about the honor society and calling for harsher drunk driving laws. Later, he ran for class president and won handily.

“I sort of laid out a vision of how we were going to raise the money to pay for our graduation and for the senior trip, and it was fairly practical, here's what we need to do, here's what how we're going to do it,” McKenna said of his campaign speech.

His fundraising idea was to sell concessions at school games.

"I didn't see a lot of football games, but I was at all the football games raising money and then we did the same thing for the basketball games. It was very successful,” McKenna said.

Classmates say McKenna was respected as extremely competent and able to mingle in both the honor society crowd and among athletes.  "Geek or nerd -- I'm trying to think of the phrases we would have used in those days. Yeah, I was a pretty serious student, certainly not one of the cool kids,” McKenna recalled. 

He graduated in 1980, the year ex-California governor Ronald Reagan challenged President Jimmy Carter for the White House.

"Reagan was so hopeful, so optimistic, President Carter didn't feel that way to us,” McKenna said.

Today, as a gubernatorial candidate, McKenna can be seen laying out his financial plans, not unlike the days he told the senior class how he’d raise money for their party.

"Some people get elected to public office because you respect them.  Some people get elected because you expect them to do a job or bring some differences to things,” said veteran Seattle PI.com columnist Joel Connelly. “And that in essence, is the McKenna appeal."

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More information about McKenna on KING5.com's It's Your Time section.

Associated Press profile of McKenna.

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