State schools chief Randy Dorn is considering an independent run for governor, arguing Democrats and Republicans alike have failed to adequately fund public schools despite a Supreme Court contempt order.
State schools chief Randy Dorn says he’s weighing a run for governor as an independent, arguing that neither Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee nor Republicans are living up to their duty to fund public schools.
Dorn, who recently announced he won’t seek a third term as superintendent of public instruction, said in an interview he’s leaning toward entering the 2016 gubernatorial race, if only to prod Inslee and Republican challenger Bill Bryant on education funding.
“I do not see any one of the two candidates going forward that is going to produce a plan and produce a vision about how to pay for it,” Dorn said.
Despite the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision and a subsequent contempt citation, Inslee and legislators have yet to fully fund public schools as required by the state constitution, Dorn noted.
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The Legislature this year appears ready to leave Olympia after passing a bill that largely promises to deal with the issue in 2017.
Dorn says raising the $1.4 billion to $2 billion in additional revenue needed to fix the problem is going to require a tax increase — whether that means raising existing sales and property taxes or creating a new state income tax.
“I want to be honest with the public. I want to tell the public, ‘Hey, there is no way you can get to paying for McCleary and our education system without talking about new revenue,’ ” Dorn said.
A former schoolteacher who served in the Legislature as a Democrat, Dorn was elected to the nonpartisan schools post in 2008.
While Dorn criticizes both parties, his harshest words were reserved for Inslee, whom he said seems more engaged in environmental causes than school funding.
“If it comes to global warming, ocean acidity, carbon, he’s all-in no matter what,” Dorn said. “But it’s not the paramount duty as a governor to solve global warming.”
In 2015, Inslee tried to meld the issues of education and climate in proposing a cap-and-trade system that would have raised $1 billion a year by selling pollution permits to large carbon emitters. A portion of that money would have been devoted to schools. The plan died in the Legislature.
Inslee and House Democrats also backed a capital-gains tax on the state’s wealthiest residents to raise even more money for schools, but the plan was dropped amid strong opposition in the Republican-led Senate.
Dorn said he doesn’t believe Bryant will produce an adequate plan for schools, and that the Republican doesn’t have a chance of winning in the Democratic-leaning state.
Inslee’s office referred questions about Dorn’s possible run to a state Democratic Party spokesman, who declined to comment.
Bryant said in an email, “It’s true Inslee has no plan to fund education, but I do.” If elected, he said he’d give schools “first dibs” on the state budget, before all other programs, and dedicate a percentage of state revenue growth to education.
Dorn said he’ll make a decision on whether to run for governor after seeing how the Supreme Court responds to the Legislature’s latest school-funding efforts. The court last August imposed a $100,000 a day fine on the state over its McCleary failures.
Dorn said he’ll file a brief urging the court to impose even harsher penalties. After that, he’ll look at whether to mount a campaign for governor — an office he said he’s never desired to hold.
While he may not be able to field a large campaign effort without the support of the major parties, Dorn said he could rely on social media and press coverage to get his message out.
“I will definitely be the most interesting candidate,” he said.