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Candidates Find Little Common Ground

Ellen Craswell and Gary Locke took their long-running debate over how to run the state on the road Thursday, arguing over taxes, spending and growth restrictions.

The gubernatorial candidates agreed on only one point in their debate before a downtown Spokane Rotary Club crowd: There’s a clear choice on Nov. 5.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to walk into the voting booth and say ‘They both sound alike. I don’t know who to vote for,”’ Craswell told a crowd of about 300 at the Ridpath Hotel.

The Republican candidate said she supports strict spending limits, major tax cuts and “traditional family values,” while opposing “government-run” health care and same-sex marriages.

“There are very clear differences,” agreed Locke. The Democrat said he supports higher academic standards, providing education after high school for everyone who seeks it and opposes turning public colleges into private entities under any circumstances - something Craswell has suggested could be a last resort.

“I very much favor a separation between government and religion,” he said. “We cannot run government according to one religion.”

That comment, and Craswell’s suggestion that Locke would need “a miracle” to find money for all the programs he’s promised to improve, were the only comments on one of the campaign’s issues - her strong Christian conservative beliefs.

That surprised some in the audience.

Bill Duffy, a retired Gonzaga University official, said he had hoped to hear Craswell’s explanation of how she would adhere to her religious principles. A retired physician with Duffy, who declined to give his name, agreed.

“It has been bandied about in the press so much,” he said. “I don’t know how big of an issue it is, but I would like to have heard her address it.”

Both said they thought Locke had a better command of facts and articulated them better during the debate.

“I was leaning toward Mrs. Craswell, but now I haven’t made up my mind,” Duffy said.

Raymond Hansen, a Spokane Valley industrialist, agreed that Locke probably sounded better in the debate. But that wasn’t going to sway his vote away from Craswell.

“He’s a good speaker,” said Hansen. “I just don’t like what he said.”

Earlier in the day, Locke addressed Northeast Washington school administrators, who were meeting in Spokane. Craswell canceled out on the appearance, but sent a supporter and a videotape.

Locke earned hearty applause after promising education would be his highest priority. But he appeared to fumble a question from Scott Hudson, who runs Columbia and Evergreen school districts in Stevens County.

Hudson asked if Locke had signed a declaration on behalf of the gay lifestyle - maybe statewide or for Seattle.

Locke said repeatedly he didn’t remember signing anything like that.

After the meeting, Craswell staffers produced a copy of a declaration Locke signed this year as King County executive, which declared June as “Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/ Transgender Pride Month.”

Locke later said he thought Hudson was talking about a state declaration, and didn’t recall the proclamation until Craswell staffers showed it to him after the meeting.

“I get dozens of these each week, and I just sign them,” he said. “Everything from conventions to anniversaries to Prayer Month.”

Hudson said the explanation “doesn’t set well,” and accused Locke of ducking the question because he was speaking in a part of the state viewed as more conservative.

But Locke insisted he has never been reluctant to say he supports equal rights in employment and housing for homosexuals.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo