Culp keeps Gov. Inslee on defense in debate
Last updated 10/8/2020 at 12:10pm
OLYMPIA — Republic Police Chief Loren Culp came out swinging and kept incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee on the defensive during their only planned gubernatorial debate Wednesday night, Oct. 7.
Culp, R-Republic, blasted Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, for mismanaging state agencies, violating state and constitutional rights, and a lack of leadership.
"What we have right here in Washington is a leadership crisis," Culp said as the one-hour debate kicked off.
Rather than defend his record in his opening statement, Inslee immediately defaulted to the coronavirus.
"Tonight, we have a bigger question to answer: Are we going to step up and fight the COVID pandemic? Or are we going to belittle it, ignore it," he said.
Debate moderators jumped on the coronavirus bandwagon, challenging Culp for allegedly not taking the coronavirus seriously and denouncing masks because of his large election rallies where few people wear them.
"I've never come out and spoke against masks," Culp said, noting he believes in freedom and liberty. "I've come out and spoke against an order from the governor's office... The problem is when we have one person sitting in the office telling you what you are going to wear."
Culp said it's the governor's job to lay out the facts and let residents decide what is best for their families and businesses.
Moderators pointed out that the governor has had 200 days of mandates, without no end in sight, asking Inslee why voters should believe him on coronavirus-related issues.
"It's really quite simple," Inslee said. "We are saving Washington lives by the hundreds, maybe thousands... This is working. This is working big time."
Inslee linked Culp to President Trump when it comes to refusing to wear a mask. He also said his lockdown of the state has worked so well that businesses are reopening.
"We are reopening the economy," Inslee said. "We've been doing that for two months."
Culp suggested Inslee was using the lockdown as an excuse to obtain federal money, that was never fully dispersed to the people who needed.
According to Culp, Inslee's administrations received $29 per day per resident in retirement homes during the pandemic, but only paid out $5, challenging the governor to explain where the rest went.
Inslee denied the allegation and insisted that he followed the law and state and federal constitutions in locking down the state, shuttering businesses and quarantining healthy residents.
"I follow the constitution and all its respects," he said. "No court has struck down any of my decisions."
Inslee said that he has made tough decisions he conceded many people object to.
"Sometimes saving lives isn't easy," he said.
When questioned on The Boeing Co.'s decision to leave, Inslee said he believes the company owes state residents.
"This market is going to come back," he said. "And when it comes back, The Boeing Co. needs to treat taxpayers fairly."
After touching on Boeing and the governor's response, moderators gave Culp an opportunity to rebut.
Culp pointed out the governor's reaction was indicative of someone who lacks an understanding of business.
He also pointed out how he started with a single truck that he grew into a construction business, before realizing his childhood dream of becoming a police chief in 2010.
"This governor has no clue what it's like in the real world," Culp said. "This is not a business-friendly state. When I'm governor, this will be a business-friendly state."
Culp did take Inslee to task for raising taxes at least 33 times since becoming governor eight years ago.
Inslee countered by referencing his threat to revisit the tax incentives Boeing was previously given to build aircraft in Washington.
"We're playing with common sense here," he said. "We want them to be inspired and incentivized to come build planes here. This is one way to do it."
Moderators questioned whether Culp could work with large global corporations, given that he currently manages a one-employee police department in a small Eastern Washington town.
Culp responded by saying it's not the governor's job to manage everything and lead everyone.
"The governor is not the leader of the citizen's lives, their businesses and families," he said, noting the governor is supposed to be subservient and only manage within the confines of the constitution.
Moderators turned to the so-called "systemic racism" in the state.
Culp denied there is systemic racism, saying state and federal laws require everyone to be treated equally.
"I firmly believe that is the way that is it and should be," Culp said.
Rather than blame racism, Culp said government agencies should "root out criminals," noting that government needs to enforce the laws evenly.
He pointed out that the governor should be facing misdemeanor charges (a subtle reference to his transportation of apples from Olympia to Malden, Brewster and Omak in violation of state law). He also asked why the governor hasn't address human trafficking, the unsolved slayings of American Indian women and other crimes.
"If our system is racist, who has been in charge for the last 35 years," he asked rhetorically. "The Democrats."
Inslee didn't address Culp's comments and instead insisted there are "racial disparities" in education, health care and criminal justice.
He said he has been focused on making sure "kids of color" are ready for kindergarten and getting his Office of Equity off the ground.
That's the problem with career politicians, Culp retorted.
"So often, politicians pander to minorities during election time, then after the election, turn their back on them," he said.
Inslee was dismissive of Culp's comment and went back to his laundry list of efforts to help minorities; the list included family leave, overtime rules and "apprenticeships" that are "great for kids of color."
When asked about "qualified immunity," Inslee said he will be open to discussions on the subject.
"I've decided to listen to the citizens," he said. "I think listening is pretty powerful, right now."
Culp disagreed that police have "qualified immunity" from prosecution.
"Qualified immunity does not protect officers for committing crimes," he said, noting officers who commit crimes face charges and trial.
"Anytime an officer abuses their power, they should be held accountable," he said.
Riot or protest
The topic then moved to civil unrest.
During this portion of the debate, Gov. Inslee denied saying that he didn't know anything about the so-called "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone," in which Black Lives Matter activists violently took over several blocks of Seattle, prompting law enforcement to abandon a precinct.
"If you look at the facts, I could not have been oblivious to it," Inslee said. "I can't comment on the quote right now."
After moderators read back his comment and pressed him further, Inslee said, "If I made a misstatement, I made a misstatement."
Inslee said he sent in the Washington National Guard and Washington State Patrol to help city police regain control.
"It is clear we did provide support when it was appropriate," he said.
"We currently have a governor that's very soft on crime," Culp responded. "I saw him in that live (press) conference. Clearly, he didn't know what was going on or he was lying."
Culp dismissed the notion that the Seattle protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., were peaceful.
"When it turns violent ... that's no longer a First Amendment right," Culp said. "It's called rioting."
Culp also reminded moderators that Inslee approved of sending in unarmed guardsmen and troopers, putting them in harm's way without the ability to defend themselves.
"I will never send them in without a means to protect themselves," he said. As for the rioters, he said: "Arrest the criminals and put them in jail where they belong."
Inslee responded by saying it's "curious to me" that Chief Culp is calling for arresting criminals when he refuses to obey new gun-control measures pushed by the governor and supported by voters - predominately in Western Washington.
Culp reminded the governor that law enforcement officers have discretion on enforcement of laws within their jurisdiction, particularly if they are unconstitutional.
"I'm sure you can understand that. If not, maybe your grandkids can explain it to you," Culp said.
Managing the state
After the brief verbal battle over gun control, moderators returned to the state budget and management of something much larger than Culp has ever seen in his career.
Moderators pointed out that there's a projected $4-plus billion budget shortfall in the upcoming biennium due to the coronavirus quarantine and its impact on businesses and the economy.
"A career politician is obviously doing a great job," Culp quipped.
In his serious response, however, Culp said he would budget from the bottom up.
First, he'd freeze spending, then look at programs that aren't working and move up the state budget line by line.
As for across-the-board cuts pushed by Inslee in the wake of the coronavirus shutdowns, Culp called it a "lazy politician's way to do it."
Culp said he's start with any state budget item that included the word "study" and cut it first, calling it "crony capitalism" and a way politicians "get money to their friends."
Inslee said he's moved beyond that, talked to legislators and has had a huge success." He said he's done so well with the budget shortfall, that it's "vindicated" him on his decision not to allow the Legislature to convene in special session to deal with the shortfall.
If he's done so well, why did he need to hire a global consultant at a price of $164,000 per week, Culp asked. Inslee denied knowing anything about the funds Culp said should've been spent on helping businesses and residents.
Inslee tried to change the direction of the debate by pointing out that Culp refuses to obey his mask and quarantine orders.
"Not only has he disagreed with my orders, he's failed to show leadership," Inslee said of Culp, adding, "It's too dangerous to have a mini-Trump right now."
After that brief exchange, moderators turned to this year's wildfires.
Culp said the fires are the result of failed state management.
"This governor calls these 'climate fires,'" he said. "He's just deflecting. These fires are a result of very poor management of our forests. We need to clean them up."
Culp, who lives in Ferry County — which has had several large fires in the last few years, including the Stickpin and Williams Flat fires — said climate always changes, but that's not the reason for wildfires.
Inslee, however, revived his global warming mantra from his failed presidential bid, again saying Eastern Washington fires are the result of "climate change." He also said it's too expensive to take care of the 22 million acres of publicly owned land managed by the state.
"You can't send a gardener with a rake," he said.
"This governor has failed," Culp responded.
As the debate wrapped up, moderators asked about some of the mismanagement issues Inslee has faced, including the loss of certification of Western State Hospital and the theft of millions of tax dollars that had been earmarked for unemployment benefits after the start of the quarantine orders.
"Natural disasters can destroy an agency's ability to respond," Inslee said, adding only 2 percent of the unemployment funds were stolen under his watch.
Culp said the problem with state government is a governor who's not the servant he was elected to be.
If elected, Culp said voters "will run your business and your life. That's the way a public servant should act."
He pointed out that Gov. Inslee is acting like a tyrant, by referring to Culp supporters as "Trumpians."
"Trumpians? Is that the new deplorables, governor," Culp asked. "These are people who care about their state, from King County to Spokane County. I'm hearing from them by the thousands. I'm hearing from them every single day."
In a very brief 15 seconds, Culp and Inslee were asked to address the budget again.
Culp said the state is wasting money and he'd cut the budget. He also asked Inslee about the governor's plan to raise taxes.
Inslee balked: "You can't make that decision, now. You have to take a look at circumstances in December."
He then asked Culp about enforcing gun-control laws.
Culp took up that issue in a very brief closing statement.
"We don't have a gun-violence problem. We have a criminal-violence problem," he said. "We need to focus on criminals and put them in jail."
Rather than taking gun rights from law-abiding citizens, Culp called on the state to stop releasing criminals.
"He (Inslee) said open the gate and let them out," Culp said. "This governor is soft on crime."
Inslee let the drop, instead focusing on his tenure.
"I am against going backwards in our effort to build this state," he said, claiming he's responsible for "profound progress" here.
He then moved back to the coronavirus.
"First, we have to knock down this virus. To do that, we have to have leadership," he said. "We can't ignore this... Bold, decisive leadership works."