In their first debate Wednesday night, Gov. Jay Inslee and his Republican challenger, Loren Culp, clashed on the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement, mental health and management of state government.
Sometimes their statements strayed from the truth — or at least cried out for more context. Here are some of those statements:
Inslee suggests Culp would cut health care
When discussing mental-health programs, Inslee suggested Culp would cut health insurance for Washingtonians. The claim echoed Inslee’s remarks in a Tuesday news conference where he contended without evidence that GOP lawmakers — firmly in the minority in the state House and Senate — wanted a special session to cut health care.
“The fundamental problem of Chief Culp when he talks about this issue [mental health] is his party and his president want to take away health insurance, and mental-health insurance, from 800,000 people,” Inslee said during the debate. “And then whenever we talk about actually paying for this, they want to cut the budgets.”
Republicans in Congress — as well as President Donald Trump — have repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which created an insurance marketplace and allowed states like Washington to expand Medicaid. The Trump administration this year, in a complaint, urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the entire law.
But Culp in the debate didn’t suggest cutting health care, and his campaign website makes no mention of it. Culp’s budget-cutting ideas Wednesday were relatively modest, like ending funding in the budget for studies of various issues or policies, as well as freezing spending and evaluating other potential reductions.
Enforcing gun laws
Culp, the police chief of the small town of Republic, Ferry County, was asked about his refusal to enforce the voter-approved Initiative 1639.
The measure, which passed with 59% of the vote in 2018, raised the age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, beefed up background checks and added potential criminal liability for failure to safely store firearms.
Culp said police officers have discretion on what laws to enforce. “You ever get pulled over and not get a ticket?” he said.
He added that his decision not to enforce I-1639 “is based on the Washington state Constitution” and cited Article 1 Section 24, which states, “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired …”
It’s true that police officers have a certain amount of discretion in enforcing laws.
But deciding to give someone a break for doing 40 in a 25 mph zone is not the same as refusing to enforce speeding laws whatsoever.
Courts, so far, have rejected lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of I-1639. In August, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton upheld the law, pointing to long-standing precedents and similar age restrictions in federal law.
“These authorities demonstrate that reasonable age restrictions on the sale, possession, or use of firearms have an established history in this country,” Leighton wrote in the order. Gun-rights groups said they would appeal the ruling.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has warned sheriffs and police chiefs they could be held liable for refusing to conduct background checks required by the law, if an illegally transferred firearm is then used in a crime.
Inslee and the $165,000-per-week state contract
When criticizing spending under Inslee, Culp cited a $164,000-per-week, no-bid state contract with global consulting firm McKinsey to help with response to the virus.
Inslee responded by saying, “I have no idea what he’s referring to, but we have made good decisions on dealing with COVID.”
The Inslee administration did, in fact, hire McKinsey to consult on the virus response, as reported in August by The Seattle Times in collaboration with Northwest News Network.
The contract involved a data dashboard — known as the “Governor’s Decision Support Tool” — and information supplied by the company to help the state make decisions on how to gradually lift restrictions after the stay-home order was lifted.
The total cost of the contract was $1.3 million, and Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee later said the governor’s office decided not to extend it further. The per-week rate over the short time of that contract: $165,000.
No ‘across-the-board cuts’ by Inslee
In that same segment, about an projected state budget shortfall amid the pandemic, Culp contended Inslee had imposed across-the-board cuts to state government.
“I’m not going to do, like the current governor does and suggests all the time, across-the-board cuts,” Culp said. “That’s the lazy politician’s way of doing it.”
Culp said he would, instead, examine each program in the budget and make decisions.
But Inslee has not instituted across-the-board cuts, which reduce all services of government by the same amount.
In response to the economic slowdown related to the virus, Inslee this spring vetoed about $445 million in new spending over three years. The governor also canceled some state-worker raises and furloughed employees, and put a freeze on hiring for many state jobs.
The governor in May did announce that agencies needed to conduct an exercise showing how they might slash their budgets by 15% in the coming fiscal year, as a way to identify savings that could be made as tax revenues dropped.
Culp was challenged about his suggestions that recent devastating Northwest wildfires may have been set as part of a coordinated campaign.
He stated: “I don’t believe I ever said that these fires were coordinated.”
But moderator Essex Porter of KIRO 7 pointed out Culp had definitely said that.
While touring fire damage in Okanogan County last month. Culp told a homeowner whose place had burned down that “a lot” of the fires “have apparently been set intentionally.” He added: “To have that many fires set all over the state — it’s got to be coordinated.”
At a recent rally, Culp’s campaign manager, Chris Gergen, also pushed the idea, saying “let the communists know, and the antifa know, and the BLM know that you can’t just roll into our state and burn down our forests,” according to a clip posted online.
At the debate, Culp acknowledged, “I don’t have any evidence,” but said “it’s kind of suspect” that so many fires started at once with no storms around.
There have been scattered arrests of people seen attempting to set individual blazes. For example, a Puyallup man was arrested last month after setting a small brush fire in the median of Highway 167.
But there is no evidence, so far, of a broad conspiracy of the type that some have spread on social media, trying to claim antifa activists are to blame.
The FBI Portland office issued a statement last month saying reports of extremists setting fires were untrue. “Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources,” the statement implored.