A sign that Washington’s campaign season remains in the doldrums, despite the fact that ballots are in voters’ hands – or at least languishing under a pile of junk mail on some counter – arrived last week with the announcement two gubernatorial debates had been scheduled.
One will be in Vancouver at the end of August and another in Yakima in early October. This is great news, not solely because putting Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna on the same stage is instructive for voters and good theater for political junkies. These are also two places that often have little chance to get up close and personal with gubernatorial candidates, let alone host a debate.
If Spokane complains about being a second-class citizen in the eyes of some statewide campaigns, other parts of the state might rightfully note they are in steerage. (Information about the venues is in the post below.)
The oddest thing about the announcement . . .
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… was the back and forth between the McKenna and Inslee campaigns. The dates apparently were nailed down sometime Wednesday, and that evening Randy Pepple, the McKenna campaign manager, said his guy was in and “hopes Inslee answers the call.”
The McKenna campaign has for months suggested Inslee is somewhat feckless on debates. Their candidate has agreed to at least 15 debates, which sounds more like an outline for a new reality series than a serious debating proposal.
“The voters can be justifiably puzzled at Congressman Jay Inslee’s unwillingness to agree to debates with Attorney General Rob McKenna,” Pepple said in a prepared statement. “We feel it is only respectful to some of our debate hosts – and the voting public – that we confirm two debates which Congressman Inslee has allegedly told the hosts he may be willing to attend, and see if that cause his campaign to reconsider its silence on the remaining schedule.”
The Inslee campaign shot back that it had agreed to the debates in Yakima and Vancouver long ago, and the only real question was the dates. It also announced three other debates it had on his schedule, two in Seattle and one in Tacoma. Pepple shot back that Inslee was snubbing the good folks in Walla Walla, Tri-Cities and Spokane and elsewhere who graciously extended debate invitations to them, and complained about the timing of some events he was accepting because of the programming they’d be up against.
A check with the sponsors of both the Vancouver and Yakima events revealed that Inslee, like McKenna, had agreed to those debates months ago, subject to the usual caveat – that they could work out time, place, sponsorship, broadcast and format details. The Yakima debate sponsor, the Association of Washington State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, was shooting for the first three days of October, when it has a conference in that Central Washington city. They had most recently proposed Oct. 1, but moved it to Oct. 2, a source said, at the request of the McKenna campaign because the 1st is the candidate’s birthday.
A long string of e-mail communications over the Vancouver debate also shows the Inslee campaign saying they’d put that debate on the schedule on June 15. The organizer for that debate said both campaigns have been willing to attend, and the only problem was getting schedules to match up.
Pepple, who is an old hand at campaigns, all but acknowledged that this just the standard patter in his announcement on Wednesday: “The ‘debate over debates’ is a constant in modern politics…” the press release starts.
It is a constant. Not sure that it has to be.