McKenna challenges Inslee to 15 debates

OLYMPIA — Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna has challenged his Democratic opponent Jay Inslee to 15 debates in the coming months, and Inslee’s campaign said Monday that they had agreed to three so far.

But Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said Monday that the former U.S. representative won’t participate in a June 12 Spokane debate sponsored by the Association of Washington Business. She said the organization had operated in bad faith by releasing a statement in January confirming the debate before the Inslee campaign agreed to it.

AWB spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe disagreed with that assessment, saying the organization has been “very upfront this whole time.”

McCabe said that the Inslee campaign never responded to any of its emails, letters or phone calls, and that they needed to pick a date for the gubernatorial debate that the conservative-leaning organization has hosted every four years since 1992. KUOW public radio political reporter Austin Jenkins was set to moderate the debate.

McCabe said she was hopeful that Inslee would reconsider.

“This would be the first time in the history of our debates where we didn’t have both candidates attending,” she said.

Smith says that the Inslee campaign has already confirmed three other debates agreed to on Monday by McKenna: a Rotary club debate in Seattle in June, one sponsored by the Washington Clean Technology Alliance in August and another sponsored by the University of Washington-Tacoma and others in Tacoma in September.

She said that they are in the process of confirming others and will likely agree to about six. Inslee stepped down from Congress last week to focus on his campaign.

McKenna spokesman Charles McCray said that they issued the list of debates they’ve agreed to put pressure on Inslee, who, in December, issued a call for six debates.

“It’s time to move this process forward,” McCray said.

Smith said that because Inslee has already agreed to debates, “there’s nothing that anyone could point to say Jay isn’t ready or willing to engage in a robust debate before an audience.”

“He’s looking forward to the opportunity,” she said.

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