Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Why Bill Bryant took so long to condemn Trump and other tense moments at 'chippy' debate

Gov. Jay Inslee, left, a Democrat, and Bill Bryant, his Republican opponent.
Campaign photographs
Gov. Jay Inslee, left, a Democrat, and Bill Bryant, his Republican opponent.

The first Washington gubernatorial debate of the season happened yesterday. Incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee – a Democrat –  faced off against former Seattle Port Commissioner and Republican Bill Bryant out in Spokane.  

But was anything at stake given that it's still summer, and most people aren't paying attention? Bill Radke put that question to David Hyde: 

David Hyde: There was a surprising amount of drama and tension in the room. The back story is that Jay Inslee is not that popular for an incumbent governor. He was under 50 percent in the most recent poll,  and most political experts say if an incumbent is under 50 percent, they're vulnerable.

Except for two things. First, Bill Bryant only got 36 percent in that same poll. Second, no Republican has won the governor's office in Washington State since 1980. So the central drama last night was: What will Bill Bryant do? Will he go on the attack? How’s that going to sound? 

Bill Radke: So theoretically, Inslee’s vulnerable. But that’s a tough climb. What’s the answer – what was the tone? 

David Hyde: Chippy! Bryant kicked it off with a metaphorical campsite attack. For those who are new to Washington state – camping is very serious business here. Bryant said his Dad taught him to leave the campsite cleaner than he found it, but, "Unfortunately after four years, Governor Inslee has trashed Washington’s campsite."

Bill Radke: Ouch! So what was Bryant talking about there?

David Hyde: He had number of examples of this metaphorical trashing. Like the early release of thousands of prisoners by the department of corrections due to a computer programming error. Those early releases were linked to two deaths.  

Bill Radke: How did Inslee respond to the idea that he’s trashed the campsite? 

David Hyde: With sarcasm. He said, “Thank you, Bill, for your positive, optimistic opening statement about the vision in our state.”

Inslee went on to paint a very different picture – about innovation and progress. He talked about “huge strides in educational attainment,” and “The largest transportation package to help us relieve congestion and help … move products to the ports and export to the world.”  

Bill Radke: Two different visions. It reminds me a little of the Democratic and Republican convention contrast. So there they are sparring. What about the substance – where did they actually disagree on issues?

David Hyde: The minimum wage is a good example. Jay Inslee supports Initiative 1433. It's going to be on your fall ballot. And it would hike the state minimum from around $9.50 to $13.50 an hour over four years. 

Bill Bryant opposes it. He says, "I will not support a one size fits all system that could cause some people to have their hours cut, or their benefits cut, or hurt some families that are already struggling. And could cause them to lose their jobs.”

Jay Inslee says it’s worked in Seattle: “The fact is you can’t get a table in Seattle … And the evidence is overwhelming that when you do some reasonable raise in the minimum wage it can help economic growth. If you’re selling shoes, you want people to have $2 in their pockets so they can buy your shoes.”

I’m not sure where Jay Inslee gets shoes for $2. But Bryant wasn’t buying it. And he took a dig at yuppie Seattle. 

Bill Bryant: “Well, I didn’t grow up going to restaurants in Seattle. When mom and dad were starting out and I was young, dad was a teacher and to make extra money he coached all three sports, and then on Saturdays to pay the bills he went into Shelton and worked at the correctional facility.”  

Inslee came back and said it’s not about Seattle. It's about Spokane – and various places around the state.

So, to sum up:  They disagree about the minimum wage. But they are both against Seattle.  

Bill Radke: Yeah, nobody wants to be rich, elitist, Seattle. Seattle can take it.

David Hyde: Exactly

Bill Radke: Also, Bill Bryant finally came out this week saying he’s not going to vote for Donald Trump. Did that figure in last night?  

David Hyde: It was one of the central dramatic moments. Inslee asked Bill Bryant why it took him so long.  He asked Bryant what he saw in Trump and why he didn't say anything against him for 242 days. 

Bill Bryant replied:

This wasn’t a political decision, this was a really tough decision. And it was a about loyalty. But not loyalty to my party. Remember I talked about how so many people all across Washington state feel forgotten and left behind? These are folks that I grew up with. These are people who I went to high school with. And they think government doesn’t care, and doesn’t listen to them. And many of those people think Donald Trump is going to solve their problems. I don’t, but they do. And I was afraid that if I continued to come out against Mr. Trump, those people were going to think I abandoned them too.”

David Hyde: So you hear the two different visions there of the state. Bryant talking about people who are struggling. 

It also illustrates the difficult dance that Bill Bryant has in this election. On the one hand he’s got to appeal to the majority of people in this state who don’t like Trump. He’s come out against Trump now.  He’s very clear about that. 

On the other hand, he doesn't want to alienate those people in his own party who are for Trump because he can’t afford to lose them. So it’s a difficult road ahead for Bill Bryant in some ways. 

Bill Radke: Any final thoughts on the first debate between Governor Inslee and his challenger Bill Bryant?

David Hyde: I think both candidates did what they felt like they needed to do. And it perhaps foreshadows what we’re going to see in the fall.  Bryant did a good job trash talking about Inslee’s record – literally – with that campsite analogy. And Inslee stayed optimistic, and didn’t get rattled. 

Year started with KUOW: 2004
Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012