A new bipartisan group of civic leaders says it will host publicly accessible debates for Washington’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races this fall.

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Saying regular voters are increasingly shut out of political debates, a bipartisan group of state civic leaders says it will host nonpartisan, publicly accessible debates this fall for the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.

Calling itself the Washington State Debate Coalition, the group — including former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican, and former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, a Democrat — said it wants three debates each in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contests.

The coalition, organized by Seattle CityClub, says it wants debates that allow direct public participation and get beyond the partisan sound bites and 30-second TV ads that dominate the political scene.

“Informed, publicly accessible debates are harder to come by these days,” said Diane Douglas, executive director of Seattle CityClub.

Details including the format and locations of the debates have yet to be worked out, but a powerful group of endorsers already is on board. They include former Govs. Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire, former Washington Secretaries of State Ralph Munro and Sam Reed, and Bill Ruckelshaus, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Also backing the effort are dozens of colleges and universities and media organizations.

The list of backers should give the coalition clout when it asks candidates to commit to show up this fall, fighting the historical efforts of incumbents to limitdebate opportunities.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, typically has agreed to just two televised debates in her recent re-election bids.

Dicks, a Bremerton Democrat who represented the state’s 6th Congressional District from 1977 to 2013, said incumbents shouldn’t shy away from standing on stage with their challengers.

“I hope that they will be willing to debate their opponents,” he said, calling the new effort “long overdue.”

Murray, who is seeking a fifth term this year, faces a challenge from former state Republican Party Chair Chris Vance.

In the governor’s race, former Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant, a Republican, is taking on Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who won his first term in 2012.

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