Locke, Carlson trade barbs in final debate

By HUNTER T. GEORGE

Associated Press

SPOKANE — Gov. Gary Locke and Republican challenger John Carlson tangled over student test scores, sex predators and gun control Monday in the final televised debate of the gubernatorial campaign.

Democrat Locke accused Carlson of offering unworkable solutions for big problems and flip-flopping on education, health care and tax issues.

"You seem to be having trouble making up your own mind," Locke told Carlson during one exchange.

Carlson, an underdog who gave up his job as host of a conservative KVI-AM radio talk show to take on the popular incumbent, said Locke has done nothing about clogged highways and soaring property taxes.

"Governor, I will not emulate your style of leadership by being indecisive," Carlson said.

The two sparred politely but firmly before an audience of students and others at Gonzaga Preparatory School. It was the third televised debate of the campaign. Libertarian Steve LePage of West Richland also will be on the Nov. 7 ballot but wasn’t invited to the debates.

Both candidates said they thought they performed well, though neither scored any knockout blows. Carlson, who has trailed Locke in the polls throughout the campaign, acknowledged that he needed to do well "to keep closing the gap."

As he has done throughout the campaign, Carlson sought to blame Locke for the state’s various problems. In his newest attack, he took the governor to task for boasting about "dramatic" gains in test scores during the past few years.

Carlson, holding up a newspaper, pointed to last week’s state report showing that just 20 percent of 10th-graders met standards in the reading, writing, listening and math portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test.

"That is a flunking grade for Gov. Locke," he said after the debate.

Locke noted that fourth-graders’ scores have increased 25 percent, particularly in math, in the past few years. "We’re making progress, and we’re not done," he said.

Locke said Carlson can’t claim to be an effective leader when he keeps changing his position on issues. Carlson used to criticize the governor for pushing to reduce class sizes in schools and backing a move to give health care consumers more rights over health maintenance organizations, but now supports those issues, Locke said.

The governor also noted that Carlson has backed away from a promise he made in his voters’ guide statement to give all homeowners a $300 break on their property taxes. Carlson has said it would be too difficult to get through the Legislature.

"He’s constantly flip-flopping," Locke told reporters.

The candidates briefly touched on numerous other issues during the one-hour debate, including:

  • _Gun control. Locke said handguns should come with trigger locks, buyers at gun shows should undergo background checks and parents should be held accountable for failing to keep guns out of the hands of children. He also said Carlson opposes "reasonable gun control." Carlson said he supports "effective" gun control, such as the "Hard Time for Armed Crime" initiative he successfully championed, which boosts prison sentences for crimes involving weapons.

  • _The Department of Social and Health Services. Carlson said he would split the agency into three parts because it is so big that agency employees are not held accountable for failing to protect vulnerable children and seniors. Locke said at least 20 employees, out of 18,000, have been disciplined in recent years, and he said breaking up the agency would hurt the thousands of people who receive multiple services.

  • _Property taxes. Locke repeated his support for eliminating the state portion of the property tax for elderly homeowners and curbing the impact of skyrocketing valuations by amending the state constitution to allow "rolling averages." Carlson said Locke has promised for years to cut property taxes, and hasn’t.

  • "Blanket" primaries. Both candidates said voters should not be required to register with political parties. The Legislature has to deal with the issue next year due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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