June 29, 2014 in City

Spin Control: Clock ticking on candidate debates, initiatives

By The Spokesman-Review
 

In a sign that campaign season is truly upon us, last week saw the first debate over debates, the annual exercise in which one candidate dares another to meet on the field of verbal combat, and the person challenged offers a reason not to jump at the chance.

Independent candidate Dave Wilson challenged Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to 10 debates – five before the Aug. 5 primary and five after. This may seem a bit presumptuous on Wilson’s part, considering no independent congressional candidate has made it through the state’s top-two primary, but congressional candidates must be confident above all else.

McMorris Rodgers demurred. She sent Wilson a nice note welcoming him to the race but begged off on anything pre-primary, saying she was “committed to doing all I can for Eastern Washington during July’s busy Congressional schedule but I am eager for debates in the fall. … I was planning on writing to discuss debates as soon as we are certain who the candidates will be in November.”

Perhaps the biggest news flash here is not that she’ll eventually debate, but that Congress will be busy in July.

McMorris Rodgers has never failed to debate an opponent in a congressional campaign, although she has had a few scheduling dust-ups in recent elections.

In 2010 she only debated Democrat Daryl Romeyn once, and that after first refusing the scheduled televised debate, citing a commitment made because she had doubts Romeyn was a serious candidate. When she eventually agreed to the debate, Romeyn said he’d scheduled something after she’d canceled. Eventually they both cleared their schedules for the one debate.

In 2012, Democrat Rich Cowan challenged her to 10 debates – like Wilson, he wanted one in each of the district’s counties – and she countered with two. She rather flippantly said she’d do 10 with Cowan if he could convince Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell to accept Republican opponent Mike Baumgartner’s challenge to debate in all 39 counties. She and Cowan debated twice, once on public television and once at a Greater Spokane Incorporated forum, over a three-day period in mid-October.

McMorris Rodgers hasn’t debated pre-primary since Washington voters adopted the current system that sends the top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of party. This year’s race for Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District has Democrat Joe Pakootas and Republican Tom Horne as well as McMorris Rodgers and Wilson.

The three challengers attended one debate already in Spokane, and all candidates have invitations to debates in Republic, Colville, Clarkston and Pullman next month.

Clock ticking on initiative drives

At least two initiative campaigns will turn in signatures this week in an attempt to get their proposals on the ballot. The secretary of state’s office has appointments to receive piles of petitions on I-1351, dealing with lower class sizes in public schools, and I-1329, calling for a constitutional ban on corporate campaign donations.

No word yet on this year’s Tim Eyman-Mike Fagan-Jack Fagan ballot measure trying to force the Legislature into passing a constitutional amendment that requires two-thirds majorities for tax increases. In his most recent email appeal for cash, Eyman made no predictions but instead thanked supporters for five months of hard work and recounted the successes of past campaigns.

Longtime Eyman critic Andrew Villeneuve predicted they won’t have the needed names, noting the campaign has spent no money on signature-gatherers, which have been almost a necessity for getting initiatives to the ballot in recent years.

July 3 is the deadline.

Rolling on

With the first legal recreational pot stores set to open July 8, Washington is quickly becoming a mecca to every wild idea in marijuana marketing. Last week, a company that makes a kitchen accessory it says can take the essence out of marijuana and infuse it in various food items like butter or honey sent out notices. It would be serving up pot-laced foods in a special food truck at an Everett farmers market.

When the New York public relations person was asked if that would be recreational or medical marijuana, she insisted both, adding it was all “perfectly legal.”

State officials said there was no way serving up recreational marijuana like that was going to be legal. State laws don’t allow public consumption, have no provisions for marijuana restaurants – rolling or stationary – and retail licenses haven’t been handed out.

Officers for the company later explained offerings would be strictly medical marijuana, so they’d only go to adults with a doctor’s recommendation. But even so, there seemed to be plenty of opportunities to run afoul of the law. Eventually the company cited “permitting difficulties” and rerouted the rolling pot-prep operation to a medical cannabis farmers market in Black Diamond.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at www.spokesman.com/spincontrol.

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