Not a Single Candidate Answered the Question

By Josh Feit July 1, 2009


1) At the start of last night's Town Hall debate between the four Democratic candidates vying for King County Executive, moderator Cliff Traisman—a longtime environmental lobbyist in Olympia— promised the 300-plus people who crowded into the pews that this "was not NPR or KUOW" and the candidates would "mix it up," and that he would ask the contenders to rebut one another (he threatened to jump in himself with pointed follow-up questions when he deemed it necessary).

That would have been nice.

For an hour and a half, the candidates—King County Council Member Dow Constantine, State Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48), State Sen. Fred Jarrett (D-41), and King County Council Member Larry Phillips—got away with not answering questions, not critiquing or addressing each other, and not giving the audience much of a show—or more important, not giving the audience much to go on when trying to differentiate between the four.

Constantine and Hunter did the best job establishing an identity—Constantine sent the message that he's the guy who will take on the bad guy corporations (like Glacier Northwest and the entire membership at the Building Industry Association of Washington) and Hunter made it clear he will be a stern manager when it comes to going through the county's bloated budget (surprisingly, Phillips, who for  my money typically dominates these executive debates with his energy and wonky specifics, was off his game and seemed to answer every question with Philip Glass repetion by referring the audience to a plan he's written called his "Greenprint" for the future), but there was no mixing it up, no heat—and as a result, not much light.

However, at least these four candidates showed up. Republican Susan Hutchison, the former KIRO-TV anchor who's leading in the polls, didn't make it.


A Phillips fan asks the night's most pressing question.

I will file a full report on the debate—a night sponsored by a coalition of environmental and housing groups that focused exclusively on environmental issues—later, but for now I'll report on the results of my post-debate attempt to get the candidates to talk in specifics. Traisman concluded the forum by asking each candidate to identify one thing they heard from any of the other candidates that they disagreed with. Not a single candidate answered the question. I managed to grab each candidate afterwards, repeat Traisman's question, and ask them to answer it.

Only Constantine and Phillips complied.

Constantine pointed out that both Jarrett and Hunter punted when asked if we had to start cleaning up the Puget Sound now. "I disagree," Constantine said, adding that we don't have time to "fret" over policy squabbles. He recommended putting a barrel tax on petroleum—a move that failed in the state legislature this year (ahem Jarrett and Hunter) to fund the immediate cleanup.

Phillips said he disagreed with Constantine's position that the BNSF corridor should not be reserved for a potential Eastside rail corridor. (Constantine wants to use it for bike trails.) Constantine was the only candidate who said during the debate that he didn't think the BNSF corridor was the right one for Eastside rail. Phillips also pointed out that Constantine actually voted for dual use.

So, good on Phillips and Constantine for answering my  (Traisman's) question.

Hunter and Jarrett not so much.

Jarrett simply stuck to the soundbite he'd been using all night about needing to "measure results instead of effort." However, to his credit, he did belittle Constantine's oil tax idea, saying it was another example of explaining how we could fund an effort without saying what specifically we'd do.

Hunter continued his attack on the county budget—laying the blame at current council members Constantine and Phillips' feet—"both these guys are approving budgets, spending money in ways that's not sustainable"—but he didn't cite anything specific that either had said during the debate that he disagreed with.

2. The PI is not doing candidate endorsements this year.

3. PubliCola is winning an award from local progressive advocacy group Fuse tonight for our  legislative coverage in Olympia this session.

4. Sorry for repeating, but yesterday's item on Richard McIver needs to be in the Morning Fizz.

This morning's Morning Fizz brought to you by Transportation Choices Coalition:


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