Loren Culp vs. Jay Inslee: Their views on guns, BLM, COVID-19 and more

The candidates for Washington governor hold wildly different views on just about everything.

Jay Inslee at left, Loren Culp at right

With just weeks until Election Day, Washington voters face a choice between two candidates who rarely see eye to eye on the key issues across the state. (David Ryder for Crosscut; Jason Redmond for Crosscut)

Only two Washington governors have ever served three terms in office. Jay Inslee is hoping to be the third.

The Democratic governor faces a challenger this year who is quite different from his past Republican opponents. GOP candidate Loren Culp is the police chief in Republic, a town of 1,100 people in northeastern Washington.

PBS KCTS 9 Vote 2020 logoCulp has never held elected office before. But he gained nationwide attention two years ago when he opposed a voter-approved state gun law, refusing to enforce it in his town. Culp then wrote a book explaining his views, and he continues to sell the book at large campaign rallies. Those rallies double as a form of protest, as they violate Inslee’s orders restricting in-person gatherings to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The two candidates disagree not only on the appropriate response to the pandemic, but also about climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement and how to tackle the state’s budget shortfall.

Here’s where the two candidates stand on key issues on the campaign trail. They will address voters in a televised debate airing live from 8 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, on local networks, including KCTS 9. The debate will also be livestreamed by TVW and available by Thursday on Crosscut.

Gun control

The candidates couldn’t be more different when it comes to their views on gun control.

As Republic’s police chief, Culp gained national attention in 2018 when he said he wouldn’t enforce a voter-approved gun measure, Initiative 1639. That measure banned the sale of semiautomatic rifles to people under 21 and required enhanced background checks for people buying firearms. It also established legal liability for some people who fail to secure their firearms, if those guns are later used in a crime.

Culp has said the measure, approved by nearly 60% of Washington voters, violates people’s constitutional rights. The police chief has said he also views other firearms restrictions as unconstitutional, including bans on bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to shoot more rapidly.

Inslee, by contrast, has urged the Legislature to ban the sale of assault weapons and approve a ban on high-capacity magazines.

When some county sheriffs joined Culp in saying they would not enforce I-1639, Inslee was highly critical. “Despite what some of these sheriffs would have people believe, no one has the ability to pick and choose which laws to follow,” Inslee said at the time.

COVID-19 restrictions

At the start of the coronavirus crisis in March, Inslee issued a stay-at-home order that shut down businesses that weren’t considered essential and banned in-person gatherings. In May, the governor unveiled a phased reopening plan, which allowed counties to gradually reopen as they met certain benchmarks. Inslee paused that reopening plan indefinitely in July, when the state saw a spike in cases. Other recent orders from Inslee and the state health department required people to wear face masks in public.

Culp has centered much of his campaign on opposing Inslee’s coronavirus restrictions. He has said he would not have shut down businesses or required Washingtonians to wear masks — actions he has characterized as violations of people’s rights.

Rather, Culp has said he would present the public with information about the virus and let them make their own choices about their health.

“It’s not the governor's job to dictate to us what to do in our businesses or our lives,” Culp said in an August interview.

Inslee has said the stay-at-home and mask requirements were necessary to keep infections from spiraling out of control. 

“Washington has shown that when you make decisions based on science and commonsense, you can knock down this virus,” Inslee tweeted Sept. 23.

In a July Crosscut/Elway Poll, most voters surveyed said they either wanted to pause reopening the state’s economy, or reimpose restrictions.

Taxes and budget

Inslee has been hammered in recent years for repeatedly proposing tax measures while in office, despite pledging during his 2012 campaign that he would veto new taxes. Before taking office, Inslee called tax increases the “wrong direction” for the state.

He has since included several tax measures in his budget proposals, including proposed taxes on carbon emissions, as well as taxes on capital gains, which include profits from selling stocks and bonds. Those tax measures weren’t enacted, but others have been during Inslee’s tenure.

The governor has resisted a call from Republicans to hold a special session to make budget cuts. To save some money, he did institute furloughs for state employees and pay cuts for some state workers, as well as a ban on nonessential travel. In March, he also vetoed more than $200 million in new spending approved by the Legislature, in anticipation of the COVID-19 crisis and how it would affect the state economy.

With state tax collections down $4.5 billion heading into the next two-year budget cycle, Inslee has said he wants to avoid cuts to public assistance programs and social services. 

“A pandemic is no time to propose cuts to things like child care, health care or mental health services,” Inslee tweeted Sept. 23.

Culp has been adamant that the state doesn’t have a revenue problem, but a spending problem.  He and his campaign have been vague about what areas of the budget he would cut, however, beyond promising to root out government waste.

On his website, Culp suggests reducing the state budget to what it was in 2016 or 2017, writing that, “Our state government was able to deliver basic education and essential services effectively at 2016 and 2017 levels.”

At that time, the state was in contempt of court over its slow progress in fixing how it paid for basic education. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund the state’s school system. The state didn’t resolve that case, known as McCleary, until 2018, after the Legislature added to the education budget.

Black Lives Matter and police reform

In an interview with Crosscut, Culp said he doesn’t believe the criminal justice system has a problem with systemic racism. “I don't believe that the system is racist,” he said. “... I've never seen anyone even act anywhere close to being a racist, and I've been in police work for 10 years.” 

Culp said people need to “quit focusing on the 99.9% of good police officers, who take care of good citizens and protect them,” and instead toughen laws that punish criminals. As far as police accountability goes, Culp said good officers already arrest the bad ones and put them in jail, where they belong. 

Culp also said in a recent interview with Portland’s KATU news that he thinks the statement “Black lives matter” is racist. “All lives matter,” Culp said. “Pointing out that one race matters, then that’s racist.” He said he agrees with people peacefully protesting the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, but his support evaporates when individuals start damaging property, setting things on fire or throwing objects at police. “That’s called rioting,” Culp said. 

Inslee has taken a different stance on the Black Lives Matter protests, saying he thinks they can and should lead to meaningful action to address institutional racism and rethink policing.

“To the protesters I want you to know this: I hear you. Black lives matter,” Inslee said in June

Inslee has proposed a few changes he wants to see enacted when it comes to policing. For one, he said the state needs to create a new investigative unit separate from law enforcement to independently investigate allegations of police misconduct and abuses of force. The state should also take action to restrict the use of chokeholds, Inslee said.

Additionally, the governor said the state must require law enforcement officers to report misconduct by other peers, and make that obligation “legally enforceable” so there will be consequences if officers don’t speak up.

Climate change and wildfires

In addition to questioning the existence of systemic racism in policing, Culp has also questioned Inslee’s focus on combating climate change, particularly in relation to the state’s recent devastating wildfires.

In a recent Facebook Live video, Culp said scientists keep changing their story when it comes to global climate change. 

“In the ’70s, there was the big scare about global cooling … global cooling, we’re all going to freeze to death,” Culp said. “And then it was global warming — we’re all going to burn up. It’s always 10 to 12 years down the road we’re going to burn up.  And now they’ve changed it to global climate change.”

In the video, Culp  instead emphasized the need to better manage the state’s forests to decrease the severity of future wildfire seasons.

While Culp said he thinks “the climate does change — I’m not denying that," his campaign wouldn’t answer whether Culp thinks humans are the ones driving those changes. According to NASA, at least 97% of publishing climate scientists say human activity is the primary driver of climate change.

Inslee, too, talks about the importance of forest management, such as thinning trees and removing debris that can fuel fires and make them burn hotter. But in contrast to Culp, the governor has also been outspoken about the need to address climate change, calling it “the most urgent challenge of our time.” The governor often identifies climate change as a key factor in worsening West Coast wildfires.

“We have a state that is just a tinderbox, and the reason is because of the low humidity, the high temperatures and obviously the winds,” Inslee said last month. “And these are conditions that are becoming much more frequent in our state. … We need to act, we need to put people to work building clean energy jobs to fight climate change.”

Mandatory sex education in schools

The two candidates also have opposing views about Referendum 90, a measure on the November ballot that deals with sex education in public schools. Approving R-90 would require all public schools in Washington state to teach medically accurate sex education, implenting a law the Legislature approved earlier this year. Voting no on R-90 will repeal the new sex education law, Senate Bill 5395, and continue the current system. Right now, schools do not have to offer sex education classes, but if they do, they must teach a medically accurate curriculum. 

Culp has said he would have vetoed the new sex ed legislation bill, which Inslee signed into law in March. In a recent video, Culp called the measure “disgusting,” echoing concerns by other opponents that the law would teach elementary school students too much about body parts and sexual intercourse. 

“It’s not something I want a government bureaucrat teaching my grandkids,” said Culp, who called sex education “a family matter, not a government bureaucrat matter.” 

In a campaign email, Inslee accused opponents of the bill of “trying to force an anti-science agenda into public schools.” He said the law would provide “age-appropriate” and “medically accurate” sex education that would “make our kids safer.”

“I believe this will do enormous good for our state's young people by preventing abuse and providing age-appropriate sexual health education,” Inslee wrote in the email.

If R-90 is approved, it wouldn’t require any teaching about sexuality in grades K-3. Instead, instruction for those young students would include lessons in social emotional learning, such as processing feelings, setting boundaries and getting along with others. Parents could still opt their children out of the lessons.

Crosscut is working to get you the information you need to cast your ballot this November. If you have questions about Washington state candidates and issues, submit them here. If you’re wondering about the process of voting, you can direct those questions here. To submit a tip about a voting-related problem you want us to investigate, please go here.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos is formerly a Crosscut staff reporter who covered state politics and the Legislature.