Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican challenger Loren Culp do not agree on much. Over the span of an hour Wednesday night, across a dozen or so issues facing Washington, the two candidates for governor differed not just on policy specifics but on the fundamental role of government.
Here are four take-aways from the debate.
Government as problem solver or as “servant”
On issue after issue, Inslee proposed or touted government-led solutions to pressing public problems.
Addressing the coronavirus pandemic, he said his orders to wear masks and shut businesses saved lives. His legislation to move Washington to carbon-neutral electricity and make buildings more energy efficient will help stem the tide of climate change, he said. And Inslee said the voter-passed initiative placing restrictions on gun purchases and gun owners will help reduce gun violence.
Culp not only disagreed with those policy solutions, he disagreed that those were problems that government should be addressing.
As governor, Culp said he would give people information about the coronavirus but would issue no mandates about mask-wearing or business closures. He wouldn’t even encourage masks.
Culp seemed to dispute accepted climate science and offered no ideas to reduce emissions. And, on the issue that first brought him attention, he continued to say that, as a police officer, he would not enforce the voter-approved gun laws, despite courts repeatedly ruling them constitutional.
“I will be the governor that understands the servant role of the governor,” Culp said.
No clear solutions on the budget
Neither candidate was willing to say what they’ll propose to fill the glaring hole in the state’s budget, projected at about $4 billion.
Inslee said it was too soon to offer specifics. Just a couple months ago, he noted, the budget shortfall was estimated at nearly $9 billion, but it was chopped in half as tax collections improved. He noted that he’s cut around $500 million through furloughs for state employees and other measures. He declined to say whether he’ll propose tax increases or not.
Culp has said he will not propose tax increases, but he said almost nothing about what he would cut to fill the budget gap. He called for a freeze on any new spending and criticized across-the-board cuts as the “lazy politician’s way of doing it.”
What would he cut, instead? He didn’t say. But he would start with any studies the state is conducting.
“Politicians love to study things to death,” Culp said.
Walk back on the CHOP
Inslee looked flustered after being pinned down on comments that he made earlier this year, when he said he was unaware that protesters had set up an “autonomous zone” in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. At a June 10 news conference, Inslee said, “That’s news to me. … I have not heard anything about that” — even as the occupation of a few city blocks was making national news and trending on social media.
Q13’s Brandi Kruse asked Wednesday why the governor seemed “oblivious” to police abandoning the East Precinct amid the protest. Inslee replied he could not have been oblivious because he authorized the National Guard and Washington State Patrol to deploy to Seattle.
When Kruse pressed him again, Inslee tried to deflect. “You’ll have to go back and look at some quote. I can’t comment on the quote right now.”
When Kruse persisted, the governor raised his voice and contradicted his June 10 comments. “Listen, I knew about CHOP. That’s why we had state troopers ready to respond … so if I made a misstatement, I made a misstatement.”
Culp has denied that there is systemic racism in policing. Asked by KIRO’s Essex Porter about racial disparities in the country — white families in the U.S. have about 10 times as much wealth as Black families — he pivoted to a personal story.
One of his best friends, he said, immigrated from Kenya and now owns a company with more than 800 employees.
“I want that opportunity for everyone,” he said.
Inslee said he would create a new, independent state body to investigate police killings and said he would await recommendations from a task force he created to reform law enforcement. He talked about social safety net programs he has implemented — expanding Medicaid, paid family leave — that have benefited people of color, among others.
And, as he did on other issues, he sought to tie Culp to President Trump.
“We have had a president who has fanned the flames of division in this regard,” Inslee said.