OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican challenger Loren Culp met in their first and only debate Wednesday night, disagreeing immediately over the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Because of the coronavirus, the candidates participated in the televised debate from separate rooms at the Olympia headquarters of TVW, the state’s government affairs channel.
Inslee said his COVID-19 mandates that shut many businesses and required masks and social distancing have saved lives.
“Our fundamental duty is saving those lives,” Inslee said.
Culp said he wanted to meet in the same room with Inslee and that if he were governor he would have put out the information and let people decide what’s best for them regarding the virus.
“I never came out against wearing masks … I have a problem telling people what to wear,” Culp said.
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.
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.
Culp, a small-town police chief in eastern Washington, has campaigned against Inslee’s coronavirus restrictions like mandatory masks, saying they infringe on people’s constitutional rights. Inslee says his measures have saved lives at a time when President Donald Trump, who recently contracted the virus, has been downplaying its seriousness.
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.
Ballots will be sent to the state’s more than 4.7 million voters next week, and elections officials are expecting record turnout.