Candidates for Washington state governor, Democrat Jay Inslee (left) and Republican Loren Culp.

Candidates for Washington state governor, Democrat Jay Inslee (left) and Republican Loren Culp.

Editorial: Tested by pandemic, Inslee deserves third term

The governor’s leadership and trust in science has saved lives and ultimately the state economy.

By The Herald Editorial Board

The choices for Washington state voters could not be more stark: deciding between gubernatorial candidates Jay Inslee, the two-term Democratic governor, and Loren Culp, the police chief — and the only officer — of the town of Republic in Ferry County, who was second in the top-two primary this summer among a large field of Republicans and others.

Inlsee, 69, prior to winning his first term as governor in 2012, served in both Congress and the state Legislature. Culp, 59, and born in Everett, entered law enforcement 10 years ago and served as a narcotics officer, following operation of his own construction company. This is Culp’s first run for public office.

Beyond resumes, there is next to no shared opinion by the candidates regarding the issues facing a state of 7.6 million people amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 2,200 lives, hobbled state and local economies, put more than 350,000 on unemployment and left an anticipated $4 billion revenue hole in the state budget.

A word first about the editorial board’s process in making this endorsement: Shortly after the primary election was certified, the editorial board contacted both campaigns seeking to schedule a joint teleconference interview, with the intention of publishing a recording of the interview as HeraldNet has for other statewide posts. Both campaigns expressed interest, but the Inslee campaign, while agreeing to an interview, said it would not participate in a joint interview. The Culp campaign then declined to schedule any interview with the editorial board. In addition to Inlsee’s interview, the board has referred to news coverage of both candidates, including the recent televised debate, now available on TVW.

Many will see this election as a referendum on Inslee’s nearly eight years in the governor’s office, but especially so regarding his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 made its first documented appearance in the nation in Washington state — Everett, in fact — in February. By March, Inslee had issued his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders, shutting down “non-essential” businesses and banning in-person gatherings. The closing of schools soon followed, as did a requirement to wear face masks in stores and other public places. In May, Inslee largely ended the shut down, replacing it with a phased reopening that for most counties has remained locked in the second or third of four phases during a moderate resurgence of infections. More recently Inslee adjusted some rules within the phases, for example, allowing restaurants more diners from a household at a table and allowing longer hours of operation.

Culp, by contrast, has opposed Inslee’s orders on business restrictions and masks. Instead he recommends making the response to the pandemic a matter of personal liberty, preferring to give state residents information about infectious disease and allowing them to make their own choices about masks and other distancing measures.

But what Culp and far too many others still don’t understand is that any choice they make for themselves to “brave” the risks of covid also forces that choice on those around them, whether they are willing to take that risk or not. The recent outbreak within the White House offers ample proof of the consequences.

Inslee’s course of treatment has resulted in serious impacts for businesses and individuals, but by following the science and tracking the data, it also has saved lives. While the more than 2,200 deaths to date are a tragedy, a less stringent path would likely have led to a far higher death toll.

Currently, the state’s rolling seven-day average for daily per capita infections stands at seven per 100,000 residents. That’s in contrast to other states such as North Dakota with 64 daily infections per 100,000 residents, South Dakota with 61 and Montana with 49, all states with laxer restrictions. Washington state follows only four other states with lower rates. The figures for average daily deaths show similar trends.

Culp’s recommended covid response is consistent with other of his “bar-stool” solutions to the issues facing the state. While appealing in their simplicity and easy to fit in a sound bite, they lack detail and an honest accounting of the eventual costs and unintended consequences for the state’s families, communities and the economy.

Culp’s belief that the state can fix its budget problem through spending cuts alone — in particular through the elimination of studies — is akin to the vague suggestion that lawmakers need only eliminate “waste, fraud and abuse” to balance a budget, without pointing to specific significant instances of those inefficiencies. Even if enough cuts can be made, what would those cuts mean in the loss of jobs for state employees and the loss of vital social programs on which many rely.

Sometimes it can seem as if Inslee drags his feet on a course of action, such as his reluctance to call a special session in response to initial revenue projections that the state would have to find some $8 billion in cuts, new revenue or both. The latest forecast has halved that expected loss. While that remains a deep hole to fill, what difficult-to-reverse cuts — or new taxes, even — were avoided by waiting for better information?

Inslee professes an enthusiasm for meeting the challenges of the next four years; and a flat-out “no” regarding whether he would leave office if offered a federal post should Joe Biden be elected president.

He will need to draw on that enthusiasm. Inslee has a daunting course to chart in proposing a budget — and getting it through the Legislature — that will balance but also finds a balance between cuts and revenue that fosters an economic recovery without further burdening middle-class and lower-income taxpayers.

As part of that recovery, more attention by the governor is needed on the leadership of the state’s Employment Security Department, which still is struggling to deliver jobless benefits to some and may have to deal with a second wave of additional federal benefits if Congress adopts more covid relief as is hoped.

And we expect more leadership — and more effective arm-twisting — from Inslee as the Legislature considers solutions for addressing climate change, Inslee’s signature issue throughout his tenure and during his brief run for president. Legislation regarding a clean fuels standard and putting a price on carbon is necessary to own up to the price we already are paying for fossil fuels in health-afflicting air pollution and the consequences for a changing climate for the state, the Pacific Northwest and the world.

Eight years in office allows enough time to draw detractors, and it’s one reason why the only other governor to serve three consecutive terms was Republican Gov. Dan Evans. Familiarity, if not contempt, breeds discontent among some. But it also builds trust among others. Tested by leading the state through the pandemic, Inslee has earned the trust of a majority of the state’s voters.

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