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Gov. Inslee, Challenger Bryant Face Off In Spokane

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Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, left, and Republican challenger Bill Bryant debated in Spokane Wednesday.

Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican challenger Bill Bryant sparred in Spokane Wednesday in the first debate of the gubernatorial campaign.

Bryant was on the attack from the get-go. The former port commissioner from Seattle compared the state to a “campsite” and said the governor has “trashed” it.

“We have a Department of Corrections which is a mess,” Bryant said. “We have a Department of Social and Health Services which is in shambles. We have salmon recovery that by almost every measure is falling backwards. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in America.”

Inslee tried to stay positive in the face of his feisty challenger. The incumbent talked up economic improvements across the state.

“Unemployment is down in every single county in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “And one of the reasons from that is having lived in central Washington for almost two decades in Yakima, I focus on eastern Washington rural Washington as much as urban Washington.”

However, Bryant made it clear he is not happy with Washington’s economy.

“There are a lot of people being left behind and that’s unnecessary,” Bryant said. He blamed Inslee in part for what he calls over-regulation for Washington’s unemployment rate. At 5.8 percent, it's higher than the national rate.

Things got fiery when Inslee answered the moderator’s question about minimum wage.

“Well, I just find it incredible," Inslee said, "that someone is running for governor in the state of Washington and said there should be no statewide minimum wage."

Bryant fired back that he had never said that.

“I have just talked about how I want to increase the minimum wage based on regional differences,” said Bryant.

Bryant said the minimum wage should be increased based on factors like cost of living, but Inslee argues that approach would leave out people in more rural parts of the state.

Wednesday’s debate was sponsored by the Association of Washington Business.