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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jay Inslee prepares for third term as Loren Culp loses job as Republic police chief, claims election fraud

Loren Culp, Republican candidate for Washington state governor, is cheered on Friday by hundreds of supporters during a rally held in Spokane Valley.  (COLIN MULVANY)

OLYMPIA – Jay Inslee was talking of plans for a rare third term in the governor’s office Wednesday as opponent Loren Culp was refusing to concede and hinting at fraud in the vote counting.

Several days before voters renewed Inslee’s job for another four years with what he considers a strong mandate, Culp’s bosses on the Republic City Council ended his job as that city’s police chief.

On Friday, in a special meeting over the budget, they voted 3-1 to eliminate the Republic Police Department and its single employee, Culp. The city will contract for law enforcement services with the Ferry County Sheriff’s Office, which is just down the street.

On a Facebook Live video with some 2,000 viewers, Culp said he lost his job because of “small-minded people playing political games.”

Republic Mayor Elbert Koontz said it was strictly a financial decision.

The sheriff’s office had supplied law enforcement gratis under a reciprocal arrangement while Culp took a leave of absence to campaign for governor, he said. It offered to handle the city’s law enforcement for a year for $164,000, which was $61,000 less than the annual cost of running the police department.

The decision was made during a special budget session Friday. The move has been under discussion for about six months, said Koontz, who added that “the timing could have been better” considering that was just four days before the election.

“Nobody’s trying to get rid of Loren. He did a great job for us,” the mayor said. But the city’s budget has shrunk with the economy, which includes the loss of gold mining operations and a lumber mill, and “it’s going to get worse; it’s not going to get better.”

Culp asked supporters to call and email city hall, council members and the mayor to protest. Koontz said they can’t check emails right now because internet service has been down for days, but they are getting calls.

Inslee had 59% of the vote Wednesday evening while Culp had just under 41%.

Culp vowed to continue the campaign, and claimed without any details there were “irregularities in tabulating” the votes.

“Corruption, that’s the word of the day,” he said. “Something smells fishy.”

Inslee dismissed the allegations, saying Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who like Culp is a Republican, has found no irregularities. Every vote will be counted, just as the law requires, he said.

He likened Culp’s complaints to those of President Donald Trump, who is questioning vote counting in several close states that could decide that election.

“I think it is grossly irresponsible to sow doubt about the ballots when he has absolutely no evidence of that,” he said. “We need public officials to help the public exercise patience and respect the integrity of the system.”

Inslee had a lead of some 600,000 votes Wednesday afternoon with more than 3.4 million cast. The state still could receive hundreds of thousands more ballots by mail over the next three weeks and will count any that have been postmarked on or before Tuesday.

Asked how he can claim to have won a third term while an unknown number of ballots remain to be counted, Inslee replied: “I can do math. It is virtually impossible for my opponent to prevail with enough votes.”

Inslee could see a Legislature with larger Democratic majorities in both chambers, with an increase in legislators who are women or members of minority groups. He said his first priority would be to “knock down COVID-19” so the economy can reopen, and reads the election results as a mandate to continue on the current path of urging people to wear masks, maintain social distances and “respond in a scientifically credible way.”

He and Culp clashed on the current requirements for businesses to reduce capacity and have employees and customers wear masks in stores and offices. Culp, who held campaign rallies where many in the crowd did not wear masks, said as governor he would lift restrictions on many activities and let individuals and businesses decide for themselves whether to wear masks.

Other priorities for Inslee’s third term would be increasing clean energy jobs, reducing homelessness and improving the mental health system. The incoming Legislature may have more members who favor a capital gains tax on higher incomes, but Inslee said he didn’t know whether that would be part of his budget proposal in early December.

He first wants to see this month’s revenue forecast, then talk to legislators and the public about “the right approach to our fiscal challenges.”