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KIRO Radio and KTTH hosts react to first (and only) Inslee-Culp debate

Wednesday night marked the first and only Washington gubernatorial debate between Governor Jay Inslee and Loren Culp.

Inslee and Culp sat alone in different rooms in front of monitors at the Olympia headquarters of TVW. The rules also stipulated that they could not have any devices with them, seemingly to prevent cheating on answers.

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Culp and Inslee immediately disagreed over Washington state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Inslee said his COVID-19 mandates that shut many businesses and required masks and social distancing have saved lives.

As of this week, there have been more than 91,000 confirmed cases in Washington since the pandemic began, and more than 2,100 people have died. For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

“Our fundamental duty is saving those lives,” Inslee said.

Culp was asked about his outdoor rallies, where he and his supporters are often seen without masks.

“I never came out against wearing masks … I have a problem telling people what to wear,” Culp said.

The debate questions went on to include issues related to Boeing’s decision to move its 787 line out of Everett, Inslee’s response to Seattle’s CHOP zone, racial inequality, forest management and climate change, and Western State Hospital. You can watch the full debate here.

For a full tweet recap of the gubernatorial debate from KIRO Radio reporter Hanna Scott and reactions from KIRO Radio and KTTH hosts, start here and work backward:

The debate comes after a series of touch-and-go negotiations between Inslee and challenger Culp, which nearly saw the event canceled altogether. During that process, Culp insisted on a face-to-face contest, while Inslee expressed hesitance about meeting in person amid the state’s ongoing pandemic.

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Inslee, who is seeking to become the first incumbent elected to a third term in the state in more than 40 years, faced 35 challengers in the August primary. He received just over 50% of the vote, with Culp coming in second with more than 17%.

Governors in Washington state aren’t subject to term limits, though most haven’t served more than two terms. The last three-term governor in Washington was Republican Gov. Dan Evans, who served from 1965 until 1977.

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Inslee is a former congressman and served as Democratic Governors Association chairman in 2018. His six-month run for president last year focused on climate change, an issue that has been central to his two terms as governor.

During the debate, Culp criticized Inslee’s comments about the recent wildfires in the state being “climate fires.”

He said that while he doesn’t deny that the climate is changing, “these are not climate fires, these are the result of very poor management on the state level.”

Inslee said that anyone running for governor needs to have a plan to address climate change.

“We need someone who will not just follow science but will act on it,” Inslee said.

Culp initially made national headlines as the town of Republic’s police chief in 2018, when he became the first law enforcement leader in the state to announce that he would not enforce new gun laws laid out in Initiative 1639. That marked the beginning of a journey that inspired him to enter the political realm, after 10 years with the Republic Police Department.

Ballots will be sent to the state’s more than 4.7 million voters next week, and elections officials are expecting record turnout.

The Associated Press and AP reporter Lisa Baumann contributed to this report.

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