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Monday, June 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane to host Inslee, McKenna for governor debate

Inslee agrees to June 12 date after protracted discussions

Rob McKenna, left, and Jay Inslee are running for Washington governor. (Associated Press)
Rob McKenna, left, and Jay Inslee are running for Washington governor. (Associated Press)

The likely Republican and Democratic candidates for governor will debate this June in Spokane. An on-again, off-again matchup of state Attorney General Rob McKenna and former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee in front of a major state business group appears on again, for good.

The Association of Washington Business announced, and the campaigns confirmed, Inslee and McKenna will debate at the Bing Crosby Theater on June 12 as part of the group’s quarterly meeting, in an event co-sponsored by Greater Spokane Incorporated. As recently as Monday, the Inslee campaign was refusing to debate at that particular time and place, accusing the AWB of bad faith in announcing the event before all details were worked out.

“We had hoped he would reconsider,” said Jocelyn McCabe, of the business group.

After talking Wednesday with Gary Chandler, AWB vice president of governmental affairs, Inslee said he was in.

“We had always been hopeful we could do something later, but since they’re set on that date, we’ll make it work,” said Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for the Inslee campaign.

AWB has held a gubernatorial debate every election cycle since 1992. Those past debates had been in the fall, but this year the group wanted to schedule it, as well as a debate between potential state attorney general candidates Bob Ferguson and Reagan Dunn, for its June meeting in Spokane. Negotiations began late last year.

In January, the group announced it had booked the Bing and scheduled the June 12 debate. That was fine with the McKenna campaign; the Inslee campaign said it was still trying to work it into the schedule but hadn’t committed.

If Inslee didn’t show, AWB said, it would invite McKenna for an onstage interview and take questions from the crowd.

Earlier this month, Inslee resigned his congressional seat, removing one other possible obstacle – that he might be in Washington, D.C., voting at the time of the midweek debate. This week, the McKenna campaign challenged Inslee to 15 debates, including the AWB matchup in Spokane. The Inslee campaign replied that it was looking at debate invitations, and some of the events on the McKenna list weren’t really debates but joint appearances or forums that are tentatively on its calendar, too. But the campaign was rejecting the AWB debate because of that previous dispute over scheduling.

In the ensuing barrage of press releases, the McKenna campaign accused Inslee of dodging debates after calling for at least six face-to-face sessions in January, at various locations around the state. Inslee’s staff accused McKenna of “bailing out” of some joint appearances himself.

After two days of back-and-forth, the AWB announced it had a deal with all sides.

“We’re glad Mr. Inslee gave in to public pressure, regained his senses and agreed to the AWB debate,” Charles McCray III, spokesman for the McKenna campaign, said in a prepared statement.

Countered Smith: “I don’t think there was any pressure, Jay just wanted to do it closer to the election. That wasn’t possible.”

The AWB debate in Spokane will be moderated by Austin Jenkins of Northwest News Network, but the group and campaigns have yet to work out a format.

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