Inslee changes course, will now do business debate

Inslee changes course, will now do business debate
In this photo taken Feb. 6, 2102, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., speaks at a manufacturing facility in Seattle, Wash. Democratic officials said Saturday, March 10, 2012, that eight-term veteran Inslee intends to resign from Congress to focus full time on running for governor of Washington state this fall. Washington's Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire is retiring at the end of her term, and Inslee has long been rumored as a Democratic contender to replace her. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee agreed Wednesday to take part in a debate sponsored by the Association of Washington Business, changing course after previously refusing to participate.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said the campaign had hoped the business group would consider dates closer to the election. That didn't happen, but Smith said the campaign is going to make it work.

Smith previously said the campaign would not participate, arguing that the organization had operated in bad faith by confirming the debate before the Inslee campaign agreed to it — a characterization that AWB previously disputed.

"We are pleased that candidate Inslee will participate in our debate and look forward to having a vigorous discussion of the key issues facing Washington state before a live audience," said AWB President Don Brunell in a written statement.

That debate is currently the first one on the calendar, scheduled to take place June 12 in Spokane. Inslee, who recently left his seat in Congress to campaign for governor, has agreed to four debates or forums, while Republican opponent Rob McKenna is pushing for some 15 such events in the coming months.

The other three meetings already approved by both candidates include a Rotary club debate in Seattle in June, one sponsored by the Washington Clean Technology Alliance in August, and one sponsored by the University of Washington-Tacoma and others in Tacoma in September.

The Association of Washington Business is a conservative-leaning organization that has hosted debates every four years since 1992. This year's event will be moderated by public radio political reporter Austin Jenkins.

Inslee's campaign said it is still in the process of confirming other debates and will likely agree to about six.

McKenna campaign spokesman Charles McCray said he hopes the AWB debate is only the first of many opportunities for voters to hear from the candidates.

"We're glad that Mr. Inslee gave in to public pressure, regained his senses, and agreed to the AWB debate," McCray said.

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Associated Press writer Mike Baker can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP .

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.