Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his GOP challenger, former Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant, met Wednesday in their third and final debate.
Standing together Wednesday in Pasco — where police last year shot to death a Mexican man who was throwing rocks — neither of Washington’s candidates for governor would commit to changing how state law treats police shootings.
Facing each other in their third and final debate, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and his GOP challenger, former Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant, by and large spent an hour reciting their campaign pitches.
With falling unemployment, Inslee touted his optimism for the state and described education-funding increases, help for homelessness and the $16 billion transportation package that passed during his first term.
“We’re making progress on jobs, we’re making progress on education, we’re making progress on transportation,” Inslee said.
Bryant once again hammered the governor over the state’s problems with homelessness and traffic, as well as Washington’s troubled mental-health system.
Fixing such problems, “is going to take an activist, engaged, forward-thinking governor,” Bryant said.
Organized by the Washington State Debate Coalition, the debate was moderated by C.R. Douglas of Q13 News and Enrique Cerna of KCTS 9 television. As the candidates stood on a stage at Columbia Basin College, the first question dealt with whether they supported changing how Washington law treats police officers involved in shootings.
State law makes it nearly impossible for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against law enforcement, even if there is a conclusion that an officer committed a wrongful killing. Of the 213 people killed in Washington by police between 2005 to 2014, only one officer was charged. While many of those were deemed justified, others drew concerns, including the February 2015 killing in Pasco of 35-year-old farmworker Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
His death at the hands of three police officers at a downtown intersection, captured on a video that went viral, ignited weeks of protests.
Bryant said that more trust is needed between communities and law enforcement, and cited a task force currently working on recommendations for the law.
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“At this point, until we have that recommendation, I think it would be premature” to propose any changes, he said.
Inslee didn’t recommend any change to the law, but said officers need better training to de-escalate such incidents.
“We have to do this to prevent shootings … .”
The two candidates also sparred over a solution to the state Supreme Court’s K-12 education-funding order known as the McCleary decision. The last big part of McCleary involved the state taking over costs for teacher and school-worker salaries that school districts are currently paying with local property-tax levies.
But neither Inslee nor Bryant has offered a detailed plan to address that.
Inslee — who has said he’ll propose a plan in December if re-elected — criticized a proposal some Republicans have floated known as a tax-levy swap. Under that type of plan, local tax levies would be lowered and state property taxes would be raised, resulting in a tax increase for many Western Washingtonians.
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Such a plan would raise taxes in “property-rich” school districts, like many in the Puget Sound region, and would cut taxes in “property-poor” districts in much of Eastern Washington.
On Wednesday, Inslee said a combination of strong revenue growth, some sort of levy swap and the closing of some tax exemptions to raise revenue could solve the problem.
Bryant criticized him Wednesday for failing to come up with a plan to solve the problem during his term.
The GOP challenger, however, suggested that Washington look at how Massachusetts has set up its education-funding system.