This morning, Republican candidate for Washington State Governor Rob McKenna announced a proposed schedule of 15 debates between mid-June and Election Day, a proposed calendar (see inset) of public dialogues beginning with 2 to 3 debates per month until September, followed by a blistering schedule of 5 debates during the critical final campaign stretch in October.
Within hours, McKenna’s opponent—Democratic congressman Jay Inslee—issued his own release, not a response to the proposal per se, but an announcement that he would not attend the first debate on the proposed list, a June event with the Association of Washington Business.
We reached out to Inslee campaign spokeswoman Jaime Smith for a reaction to McKenna’s entire debate proposal—but did not receive a response.
Inslee’s dissatisfaction with the AWB debate is not news, strictly speaking. In January, he sparred with the AWB through the media when the business organization publicized the setting of a June 12 date. Inslee protested at that time that he had not yet agreed to the schedule and lashing out at the AWB for making their announcement without full confirmation.
At present, Inslee’s grounds for definitively rejecting the AWB’s invitation may seem a tad paranoid to some. From The Seattle Times:
Smith accused AWB of “collaborating” with McKenna’s campaign in trying to organize a debate favorable to the attorney general.
Though Inslee should be quizzed further on the fuzzy subject of how debate terms would favor one candidate over another, the basic question of what conditions were preventing Inslee from accepting the AWB invite was not something Smith wanted to talk about in January when we inquired about Inslee’s core reason for shying away from a commitment to the AWB at that time.
Asked whether the difficulty stemmed from standing commitments in Congress (no longer a problem), campaign events already scheduled, or even if the congressman was entertaining other debate invites that could conflict with the AWB date, Smith affirmed Inslee’s so-far unproven commitment to debate McKenna.
“Jay has already made it clear he is committed to a full series of debates throughout the state and with more than a dozen invitations already received and under consideration, voters can be assured that a full series of debates will take place,” Smith wrote in a Jan. 6 email.
Still, Inslee has yet to agree to a single debate, and the press release issued today from the campaign would not directly respond to McKenna’s 15 debate proposal. Inslee’s ambivalence is a marked turn-around from last December when the candidate seemed to ooze machismo on the subject of debates, throwing down the gauntlet in the form of a six-debate challenge, though the challenge came with a thicket of strict conditions for his own participation.
The McKenna campaign did not explicitly call out any conditions of its own for the debates, only hinting in today’s release that it was their goal to “ensure that the voters have the opportunity to see the candidates question each other and offer rebuttals in a structured program.”
In his official statement on the proposed debate schedule was also to the point, McKenna also pushed the idea that debates are unique opportunities for voters to do their comparison shopping.
“My campaign is driven by specific proposals to meet the challenges we have before us in Washington,” said McKenna. “I’m anxious to allow the voters to compare my solutions that will help create jobs, improve our education system and make government more efficient with those that my opponent might develop.”