Attorney General Rob McKenna has committed to participating in 15 gubernatorial debates, one-upping former Congressman Jay Inslee’s call in December for six debates.
In a press release Monday, March 26, Republican McKenna challenged Democrat Inslee to the 15 debates and provided a detailed list of the events, including an August debate at Washington State University Vancouver to be hosted by The Columbian.
“This is not a sinister political move,” said Charles McCray III, communications director for McKenna’s campaign. “We have all the (debate) invitations. It’s just time for us to move forward with it.”
Inslee promptly launched a counterattack with his own press release. His office called McKenna’s announcement a “duck-and-cover debate plan” to cover up McKenna’s own record of missing meetings with key stakeholders.
McKenna criticized Inslee specifically for being unresponsive to an invitation for a June 12 debate sponsored by the Association of Washington Business.
Jaime Smith, press secretary for Inslee’s campaign, confirmed Monday that Inslee does not plan to participate in that debate. The campaign, however, has not notified the association directly.
“That is because initially when they sent the invitation, we said we would work with them to schedule the date,” Smith said. “By their own admission, they issued a statement of the debate date before we were able to confirm our attendance. … It became clear they had more of a political agenda than a civic one, so we won’t be attending.”
The AWB has hosted the first gubernatorial debate for every election since 1992, said Jocelyn McCabe, the association’s vice president of communications.
“We are very hopeful both candidates will participate,” McCabe said.
Meanwhile, Smith claimed McKenna has skipped meetings with key stakeholders, the Washington Education Association in December and the Washington State School Directors in January. She said McKenna also had been unresponsive to invitations from Tacoma’s Rotary Club and Bellingham City Club.
“Unfortunately, there have even been some events we’ve had to put on hold because McKenna told the organizers he wasn’t willing to commit until after the May filing deadline or an agreement was reached on a separate June event,” Smith said in a statement.
McCray said Smith’s assertions distorted the context.
“It was pretty clear which way WEA was going to go,” McCray retorted. “WEA made it clear ex-Congressman Jay Inslee was for the status quo and therefore their candidate. For our campaign staff to use time and energy on a group who has already decided which way to go didn’t make sense to us.”
McCray said the missed meeting with Washington State School Directors was the result of a scheduling conflict. McKenna has rescheduled the meeting for April.
Smith also claimed McKenna has declined to respond to candidate questionnaires from the Washington Education Association, Washington Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, Washington State Labor Council, American Federation of Teachers and Washington Federation of State Employees. The questionnaires are used to determine endorsements.
“We didn’t fill out Planned Parenthood’s questionnaire for the same reasons we didn’t spend time and energy on the WEA event,” McCray said. “Several of (Planned Parenthood’s) decision-makers have already contributed to Inslee’s campaign.” He said the Washington Federation of State Employees has also financed an attack ad against McKenna.
McKenna has committed to more than double the number of debates than what Inslee called for, McCray said. “Our campaign is ready to speak openly and let the electorate decide whose opinions they prefer.”
So far, Inslee has agreed to participate in three out of the 15 debates McKenna listed but has committed to a total of at least six, Smith said. The confirmed debates are the Seattle Rotary Club No. 4 in June, the Washington Clean Technology Alliance in August in Seattle and a September debate sponsored by the University of Washington Tacoma, the Jackson Foundation, the Gorton Center and Tacoma City Club.
Smith said Inslee is still deciding which other debates to attend but will be participate in at least six, if not more. The debate in August at WSU Vancouver is on the maybe list, Smith said.
“We definitely would like to try to get down there,” Smith said. “That is one of the events we haven’t declined but haven’t confirmed.”
Clark County is home to more than 225,000 registered voters.
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