Washington Gov. Jay Inslee sought to cast his record as one of fixing problems Monday, while Republican challenger Bill Bryant aimed once again to convince voters they need a new leader to come in and clean up Inslee’s messes.
The candidates squared off in their second televised debate Monday, taking the stage about a half hour after the end of the highly anticipated presidential debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
Bryant focused his attacks on safety concerns at Western State, the state’s largest psychiatric hospital, as well as traffic congestion and the erroneous early release of thousands of prisoners over a 13-year period. The former Port of Seattle commissioner accused Inslee, a Democrat, of blaming others for those problems while doing too little to solve them during his first term.
“He will blame his predecessors, he will blame the recession, but he’s had four years to fix it,” Bryant said.
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Inslee in turn attacked Bryant for policy proposals he said would starve the state’s social services programs, while not doing enough to help low-income families.
“We’re fixing problems in mental health, we’re fixing problems in (corrections),” Inslee said.
“But we’re also fixing problems for families,” the governor added, needling Bryant for his opposition to raising the statewide minimum wage.
Bryant has said the minimum wage should be raised based on costs of living in different areas — not using the “one-size-fits-all system” supported by Inslee, which he said could result in job losses or cuts to worker hours.
“I think that is playing poker blindfolded with other people’s jobs,” Bryant said.
The candidates also split on how best to stop mass shootings, like the one in Burlington this week where Arcan Cetin, 20, has been arrested in the fatal shooting of five at a mall.
Inslee said the state needs to push for “common-sense gun safety measures” along with improvements to the mental health system to reduce mass shootings. He said the state should pass Initiative 1491, which would allow people to petition a court to take a gun away from a person the court deems a threat to themselves or others.
Inslee also backs a recent push by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to ban sales of assault weapons in Washington and limit the capacity of gun magazines. There’s currently no limit on magazine capacity in Washington. Ferguson has not specified how he would define an assault weapon.
“I just don’t think anyone needs high-capacity weapons of war on our streets,” Inslee said.
Bryant offered support for I-1491 and said he’s a Second Amendment supporter in favor of background checks and responsible gun ownership. But he said reduction in gun violence primarily needs to come from addressing mental health issues and improving conditions at Western State.
Bryant’s spokesman, Jason Roe, said in an email that the GOP hopeful wants to see the specifics of Ferguson’s ban, including how he defines an assault weapon, before taking a position on it.
Neither candidate presented a plan to address the state Supreme Court’s McCleary court ruling, which says the state must fully fund public schools by 2018.
Bryant said he thinks growth in existing tax revenues can help boost state spending on education, but Inslee said that approach would result in cuts to other programs, including training to help police improve their relationships with communities of color.
Inslee also used the debate as an opportunity to praise the clean air rule adopted this month by his Department of Ecology, which he said will combat the “mortal threat” of climate change by requiring large polluters to reduce their emissions over time.
Bryant disagreed, saying Inslee’s environmental policies could raise the cost of fuel and drive middle class jobs out of Washington without substantially reducing the state’s carbon emissions.
“That is not only misguided, for a governor, that’s malpractice,” Bryant said.
The debate was the pair’s first televised matchup in Western Washington, drawing about 400 people to Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium.
Support for the gubernatorial candidates hasn’t been gauged statewide since mid-August, when independent pollster Stuart Elway surveyed 500 registered voters.
Inslee received 48 percent of support in the poll compared with 36 percent for Bryant. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent. Sixteen percent of voters said they were undecided.
Inslee also leads Bryant in fundraising, having raised about $8.5 million to Bryant’s $3 million.
Neither Bryant nor Inslee discussed the presidential race, despite Inslee’s previous criticism of Bryant for waiting to publicly say if he would support Trump. Bryant disavowed the Republican nominee earlier this year, while saying he wouldn’t vote for Clinton either.
Inslee supports Clinton.