Politics Blog

The great debate debate: Fleetwood, Ericksen disagree on forums

It would be safe to assume the two candidates in Washington’s 42nd Legislative District senate race do not see eye to eye on every topic. But a recent grab for attention has made it clear the two don’t even agree on when and how they should argue about the issues.

Some readers may remember this video Republican state Sen. Doug Ericksen posted in late July, in which he calls on Democratic challenger Seth Fleetwood to meet him for four, 1-hour community debates.

Ericksen posted the video in response to negative mailers sent out leading up to the Primary Election.

In a post-primary interview, Fleetwood said he had responded to that request within a day, which this reporter took to mean he had agreed to meet Ericksen for the four debates.

So it was a bit surprising to get a press release from Ericksen’s campaign on Aug. 28 that said the senator had again invited Fleetwood to the debates and had not heard back.

To clarify, Fleetwood did respond to the July video, but not to accept the debates as Ericksen had proposed.

“He gave a vague response and said there were plenty of opportunities, so he didn’t feel it would be necessary,” Ericksen said in an interview Wednesday, Sept. 3. “We sent a follow up to clarify and never got a response back.”

In an Aug. 20 email pictured on the press release from last week, Ericksen suggested four, 1-hour debates moderated by Tracy Ellis and Dillon Honcoop from KGMI. Each debate could cover different topics and be held in different cities throughout the 42nd, such as Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale and Blaine.

Fleetwood said he has accepted every invitation to participate in forums organized and moderated by community organizations.

“We said in our response I appreciated that Doug Ericksen shares my interest in having robust debate on the issues this year,” Fleetwood said Sept. 3. “My expectation is to have at least that many debates by participating in community events moderated by neutral, independent parties.”

The two have already agreed to attend forums at Bellingham City Club on Sept. 17, the League of Women Voters on Oct. 8 and the Human Services Forum on Oct. 16. Fleetwood said he’s also agreed to forums or debates with the Northwest Business Club and KGMI.

Ericksen said those types of forums aren’t debates.

“They’re more cattle calls,” Ericksen said. “You have 90 seconds to say who you are and then answer questions for about 60 seconds.”

With the possible exception of the KGMI broadcast, which Ericksen said he hadn’t heard about, the scheduled forums will take place in Bellingham.

“All of the ones (Fleetwood) said he will attend are in Bellingham,” Ericksen said. “Most of the 42nd is not in Bellingham ... I was hoping to have him go out to Blaine and Lynden and other areas.”

But that is misleading if you ask Fleetwood, who again said he has accepted every invitation he has gotten to community-organized debates.

“Community organizations organize debates, and we accept invitations to them,” Fleetwood said. “I don’t organize them.”

Fleetwood said he does not feel the one-hour debates Ericksen is calling for are necessary.

“We’ve already agreed to five debates,” Fleetwood said. “Only a politician who’s been in Olympia for 16 years would want to hear his own voice that much.”

The longest of the scheduled forums will likely be the City Club’s one-hour luncheon. Fleetwood said that debate will likely draw the largest crowd. Ericksen said he doesn’t like that the forum is not free to attend.

“The ones I’ve offered up are free,” Ericksen said. “We left it open in case Seth wanted to offer up other moderators or topics.”

Fleetwood said he will ponder whether or not he will respond with other terms.