In the latest dust-up over gubernatorial debates, Democrat Jay Inslee says he will skip a debate with Republican Rob McKenna scheduled by the Association of Washington Business in June.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee won’t participate in a debate with Republican Rob McKenna scheduled by the Association of Washington Business (AWB) in June.
The AWB has been a regular gubernatorial debate sponsor, but Inslee campaign spokeswoman Jaime Smith said Monday the group unilaterally scheduled the debate without Inslee’s agreement on the date.
“The schedule was still being worked out when the AWB decided to begin negotiating in bad faith,” said Smith.
She accused the association of “collaborating” with McKenna’s campaign in trying to organize a debate favorable to the state attorney general.
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AWB spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe said Inslee’s decision was news to her. Previously, Inslee had declined to commit to the event but hadn’t outright rejected it.
McCabe disputed the Inslee campaign’s claim that the AWB was plotting against him with its debate schedule. “We respectfully disagree,” she said.
McCabe said that starting late last year, the AWB began circulating suggested dates to both candidates — including trying to work around Inslee’s congressional schedule. He has since resigned to campaign full time.
“We never heard back from the Inslee campaign,” said McCabe, despite asking in emails, letters and phone calls. She said the group eventually had to pick a date and reserve hotel space.
The debate, to be June 12 at the spring AWB board meeting in Spokane, was supposed to be moderated by public radio’s Austin Jenkins.
If Inslee indeed skips the event, he would be the first major gubernatorial candidate to do so since the association began hosting the business debates in 1992, according to McCabe.
AWB intends to go ahead with the event even if Inslee does not participate.
Smith said Inslee is open to a later event with the group, but none has been scheduled.
In past years, the debate has been at the AWB’s annual policy summit in September; the event was scheduled earlier this year in part because the state’s primary is now in August.
McCabe said the organization also wants to issue its endorsement earlier this year. The group’s pick will be announced the day after the debate, she said.
Tension between Democrats and the AWB is not new.
The group is Republican-leaning and endorsed the GOP’s Dino Rossi twice for governor. Still, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire did attend the AWB debates in 2004 and 2008.
The controversy is just one of many debate-format scuffles likely to emerge as the Inslee and McKenna campaigns maneuver in one of the nation’s hottest gubernatorial races.
McKenna’s campaign Monday announced he has agreed to 15 debates, starting with the AWB event in June, and challenged Inslee to commit to them.
Inslee earlier had called for six debates. Smith said some of McKenna’s events don’t qualify as actual debates, but said Inslee has also agreed to appear at some of them, including a Seattle Rotary Club event in June.
Smith said Inslee plans to do several televised statewide debates and other joint appearances with McKenna this year, including some before groups that may back McKenna.
“We are committed to doing a whole slate of them,” she said.
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