Jay Inslee and Loren Culp to face off in televised debate

RaeLynn Ricarte

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee drew fire from gubernatorial challenger Loren Culp for refusing to face off in a televised debate and has finally agreed to participate if they are in separate rooms.

The debate will be broadcast from 8 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at the Olympia headquarters of TVW, the state’s government affairs channel. It will air statewide on major TV outlets.

“It’s not really a debate, it’s more like a Zoom meeting,” said Culp, who wanted Inslee in the same room, which he said could be done safely with social distancing measures.

Inslee, a Democrat, indicated he did not want to be in the same space with his Republican challenger because Culp doesn’t wear a face mask. The governor has criticized Culp for holding large rallies across the state in which many participants do not wear masks or stand at least 6-feet apart.

The Washington Democratic Party has portrayed Culp as “dangerous and irresponsible on public health.”

Culp contends that Inslee should constitutionally have advised his constituents about the health issues associated with the COVID-19 virus and then let them exercise their right as free people to choose how to best protect their families.

“I am not anti-mask, I wear one when I go into a business that requires them,” said Culp. “I just don’t believe that it’s the governor’s role to tell people what to wear and what not to wear. If we are to remain free we can’t allow one person to decide whether or not we have civil rights.”

When it appeared that Inslee would not agree to a debate, Culp worked with supporters to get messages out that highlighted the differences between the two camps on a Culp for Governor channel on YouTube.

He points out that Inslee operates with an “arrogant” double standard, which includes his stance on face masks.

In June, the governor invoked his First Amendment right to not wear a mask at a press conference. He has also supported large unmasked groups gathering to protest police brutality and racial injustice, and then condemned people gathering to protest his unilateral edicts.

“He pretends that being in the same room with me —even if we are 50 feet apart — will just be too dangerous, but we all know that’s not the real reason,” said Culp. “He doesn’t want to be confronted in person about his endless abuse of emergency powers that have destroyed businesses and devastated our economy.”

The debate pits Culp, who is the police chief of Republic in Ferry County and a first-time candidate, against Inslee, a two-term governor and former congressman who has spent much of his life as a politician.

Moderators will determine what questions are asked, said Culp, and will be in a separate studio than he or Inslee. The candidates will be isolated in separate offices on another floor, which they can access through separate entrances.

“We are in an unprecedented moment and, to ensure a safe and responsible debate, the Washington State Debate Coalition presented this format and our campaign agreed to it,” said Inslee campaign spokesman James Singer in a recent media report.

During the debate, Culp said all cameras will be remote controlled and time cues will be displayed electronically, meaning no staff or guests will be in the room with the candidates.

All staging will be completed at least four hours before the candidates arrive, and the studio and offices will be sanitized with an alcohol-based sanitizer prior to, and after, each event.

“At least we won’t be in HAZMAT suits,” said Culp.

The WSDC was founded by the Seattle CityClub in 2016 as a coalition of media outlets and educational and other institutions to sponsor debates for major statewide political races.

Culp said the group is supposed to be nonpartisan but he is prepared for the deck to be stacked on the liberal side. He views the U.S. and state constitutions as his guide and said that he won’t enforce or comply with laws that violate those principles. For that reason, he was the first law enforcement official in the state to publicly declare that he would not enforce gun control laws brought by the passage of Initiative 1639 in 2018.

“Hopefully the questions are substantive,” he said. “We need to discuss when Inslee’s emergency powers expire, and why he has been mostly silent on lawbreaking by violent Antifa thugs. We need to talk about his push for gun control in light of the fact that Democrats are moving to defund police departments and people are growing more and more worried about their ability to protect their families.”

Culp said the debate also needs to discuss the financial crisis in the state budget that was created by Inslee’s mandates, and how law-abiding business owners are being sanctioned or driven into bankruptcy for defying his directives to feed their families.

“These widespread shutdowns are a destructive overreach of governmental authority,” he said.

What is almost certain to be discussed, said Culp, is Inslee’s stated belief that the wildfires plaguing the Northwest are caused by climate change, which was the cornerstone of his failed presidential candidacy in 2019 and remains a big focus of his public service.

A couple weeks ago, Inslee said Culp, who believes the fires are caused by forest mismanagement, should “wake up and smell the roses” because “the wages of not following the science are loss.”

“I do not deny that the climate changes,” said Culp. “But we do need to take a scientific look at why these catastrophic fires are mostly occurring on public lands that are filled overstocked and diseased stands of trees and not on private timber land.

“This state is on fire because of mismanagement and Inslee doesn’t get a free pass by blaming it on climate change. Even liberal Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands, has been asking for more money to clean up forests but Democrats in the legislature and Inslee haven’t given it.”

He said likely voters who are undecided about how to mark ballots in the Nov. 3 general election should take time to watch the debate because it will showcase two differing ideologies.

“Well, there is one plus — we are not even going to be in the same room so Inslee is unlikely to offer me an apple,” joked Culp.

He was referencing the governor unknowingly bringing apples infected with maggot larvae from the executive garden in Olympia to fire ravished communities in
Eastern Washington. In the state, bringing a homegrown apple from west to east is a misdemeanor, although the Washington Department of Agriculture has never enforced the law.

Inslee has since apologized for the action.