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March 26, 2012 at 11:50 AM

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Inslee rejects Assoc. of Washington Business debate

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee won't participate in a debate with Republican Rob McKenna scheduled by the Association of Washington Business (AWB) for June 12 in Spokane.

Inslee campaign spokesperson Jaime Smith said Monday that AWB had negotiated in bad faith by unilaterally scheduling the debate without Inslee's agreement.

"The schedule was still being worked out when the AWB decided to begin negotiating in bad faith," said Smith.

Smith accused AWB of "collaborating" with McKenna's campaign in trying to organize a debate favorable to the attorney general.

AWB spokesperson Jocelyn McCabe said Inslee's decision was news to her. Previously, Inslee had declined to commit to the event, but hadn't outright rejected it.

McCabe disputed the Inslee campaign's claim that AWB was plotting against him with its debate schedule. "We respectfully disagree," she said.

McCabe said starting late last year, AWB sent around a list of suggested dates to both candidates -- including trying to work around Inslee's congressional schedule. (He has since resigned to campaign full time.)

"We never heard back from the Inslee campaign," said McCabe, despite asking in emails, letters and phone calls. She said the group eventually had to pick a date and reserve hotel space for its event.

The debate, to be held at AWB's spring board meeting, was supposed to be moderated by KUOW's Austin Jenkins.

If he indeed skips the event, Inslee would be the only major gubernatorial candidate to do so since AWB began hosting the business debates in 1992, according to McCabe.

AWB intends to go ahead with the event even if Inslee does not participate.

Smith said Inslee is open to a later event with AWB, but none has been scheduled.

In past years, the AWB debate has been held at its annual policy summit in September - the event was scheduled earlier this year because the primary was moved to August.

Tension between Democrats and AWB are not new - the group is Republican leaning and endorsed Dino Rossi twice for governor. (Still, Gov. Chris Gregoire did attend the AWB debates in 2004 and 2008.)

The controversy is just one of many debate-format scuffles likely to emerge as the Inslee and McKenna campaigns maneuver in one of the nation's hottest gubernatorial races.

The McKenna campaign on Monday announced he has agreed to 15 debates, starting with the AWB event in June, and challenged Inslee to commit to them.

Inslee earlier had called for six debates. Smith said some of McKenna's events don't qualify as actual debates, but said Inslee has also agreed to appear at some of them, including a Seattle Rotary Club event in June.

Smith said Inslee plans to do several televised statewide debates and other joint appearances with McKenna this year -- includings some before groups that may back McKenna.

"We are committed to doing a whole slate of them," she said.

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