Gubernatorial candidates Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna have agreed to participate in a debate in Vancouver on Aug. 29.
The confirmation from both candidates is a victory for Clark County political enthusiasts and government officials, who for the past couple of months have been trying to lure the top candidates for governor to a forum in Southwest Washington.
It’s rare to have such high-profile candidates venture to the Vancouver area for a debate, but that shouldn’t be the case, say proponents of a Vancouver forum.
“There’s kind of a political vacuum in Southwest Washington where we’re not Seattle, we’re not Portland,” said Temple Lentz, one of the debate organizers. “And we just don’t get the attention. We have a lot of important things happening down here.”
Local government officials echoed that Clark County pride in two letters submitted recently to Republican candidate McKenna and Democratic candidate Inslee. They noted that Vancouver is the fourth-largest city in Washington, and it shares many of the same challenges as other parts of the state.
“You’ll find a receptive audience here in Southwest Washington,” according to a letter sent March 14 by Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and all three Clark County commissioners. “Our voters are strongly independent. In our experience as elected officials, Clark County voters vote for the candidate, not the party.”
Mayors from Battle Ground, Camas, La Center, Ridgefield, Washougal, Woodland and Yacolt followed up with a letter sent April 3. The letter promises a positive and fair forum.
“We think it’s good for our region to host such an important event, and we think it’s good for our next governor to engage with the community in Southwest Washington,” the mayors wrote.
The charge to bring the candidates to Vancouver began earlier this year, and it grew out of a friendship between Lentz, a Democrat, and Troy Van Dinter, a former member of the Clark County GOP’s executive board. The two became pals a few years ago while both were participating in the Leadership Clark County program. They had the idea to organize a candidate forum between the 2010 primary candidates running to replace former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, Lentz said.
That event was a success, and this year the team decided to turn its focus to the race for governor. They soon gained support from Clark County business leaders, school districts, colleges, ports, media organizations and political parties.
“This is a hug race for the entire state,” Lentz said. “It’s really exciting that it’s not one single group putting it together.”
League of Women Voters of Clark County President Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who has lived in the area for more than three decades, said on Thursday that she couldn’t recall the last time there had been a gubernatorial debate in the Vancouver area. Longtime Democratic leader Dan Ogden of Vancouver also couldn’t recall when the last one had taken place.
Event organizers are still hammering out the details of the debate, including its location, how it will be broadcast, and the precise format of the debate.
“We’ve talked about a number of different formats,” Lentz said. “The candidates of course are going to have to weigh in.”
Spokespeople for the Inslee and McKenna camps said both candidates look forward to the debate.