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Murray, Smiley share contrasting views Sunday in Spokane

KSPS screenshot

The two candidates held their first formal debate at Gonzaga University.

Washington’s two U.S. Senate candidates debated for the first time Sunday in Spokane, just a few days after ballots were mailed to voters.

The Democratic incumbent, Patty Murray, and her Republican challenger, Tiffany Smiley, directed polite, but often sharp remarks toward the other.

They were asked about how they feel about the findings of the congressional January 6 committee probing the 2021 insurrection at the Capitol. Murray shared her experience of being locked with her staff in her office as protesters moved through the hallways.

“I heard what they said. I heard what their goal was. It was to take over a peaceful transfer of power, using brute force. I will not ever forget that day. I walked away from a terrifically horrible situation and realized for the first time in my life that our democracy doesn’t happen just because you think it’s there. Our democracy is something you have to fight for,” she said.

Murray accused Smiley of supporting the insurrection, referring to language she says was on Smiley’s website up until July.

“Do you believe that me and my family are a threat to democracy, Senator Murray? Because tell everyone today, either that or disavow your campaign’s dangerous rhetoric that has spent millions of dollars to attack and paint me as someone I am not,” Smiley said, the volume of her voice increasing. “That’s what’s on the ballot this November. I am here to unify, to bring us together.”

Murray said she’s not questioning Smiley’s belief in democracy or her husband’s service to the country.

“But do not conflate that with misconstruing about the intent of insurrectionists who were using their brute force to overtake the peaceful transfer of power,” she said.

Smiley countered by saying she supports efforts to examine and reform America’s election system.

“I have my agenda for political recovery and reform to turn crisis into hope and I address this issue because our elections are important to the people all over this country. And, in fact, you questioned the 2004 presidential election as well. So I think this is on both sides of the aisle,” Smiley said. “To be clear and to the point, we watched January 6 and I had to describe to my husband who lost his eyesight serving our country what was unfolding. It was heartbreaking for us.”

On immigration and whether she would support a congressional move toward comprehensive immigration reform:

“Absolutely,” Smiley said. “This is such an important issue for Washington state because we know that China is pumping the components of fentanyl across our southern border. It’s in Washington state. It’s not just in our homeless encampments that I have visited and spent time in, but it’s also in our schools. It is killing our kids.”

Smiley said she visited the southern border. She says law enforcement officers there told her the federal government is their biggest roadblock to stopping the flow of migrants. She said she would support a legal pathway to citizenship. Smiley also questioned whether Murray had visited the border.

“I went to the border during the Trump administration because the Trump presidency was separating our children from their mothers at the border,” Murray answered. “And I went, not with a photographer, I went with a pediatrician to go make sure that the kids who were separated from their parents have the care they need.”

Murray said she has worked for a complete overhaul of the federal immigration system because it doesn’t work for the people who seek U.S. citizenship or for employers looking to add to their workforce. But, she says, Republicans are no longer interested in working with her.

Both candidates accused the other party of using immigration as a wedge issue.

On addressing inflation:

“I have been very focused on lowering costs for families,” Murray said. “I have worked to lower prescription drug costs. In the Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest reduction in prescription drugs we have ever seen, allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices, capping insulin at $35, making sure that families have extension of the ACA so they can get lower costs for insurance.”

“That sounds like a Washington, D.C. answer to me,” Smiley said, using a line she used several times throughout the debate. She criticized Murray for her support of the afore-mentioned Inflation Reduction Act.

“This doesn’t come from me, this comes from the CBO [Congressional Budget Office],” she said. “It does nothing to combat inflation. In fact it raises taxes on all of us. Eighty-seven thousand IRS agents coming after our small business owners, hardworking Washington families,” echoing another common Republican claim. She vowed to vote to make permanent the 2017 tax cuts enacted during the Trump administration.

On addressing rising crime rates:

“Our cities are being destroyed by crime. Our police are not being supported,” Smiley said. “In addition to crime, we have fentanyl all over our streets. I went to a homeless encampment to help clean it up and understand what their barriers to help were. We’re allowing a humanitarian crisis to unfold right before our eyes.”

Smiley says she would help direct federal money to police departments for $5,000 retention bonuses for officers and to work with prosecutors to put repeat offenders behind bars.

Murray acknowledged is a pressing issue and pointed to money dedicated to police departments in the American Rescue Plan, which was approved with only Democratic support. She then went on to criticize Republicans for their opposition to gun control measures.

“After Uvalde, we made some small steps at the federal level, but we need to ban dangerous weapons. We need to ban assault weapons. We need to make sure that we have really good background checks and enforce our ability to make sure that those who are dangerous do not have guns,” Murray said.

On whether she would support a nationwide abortion law:

“The Supreme Court’s decision [to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision] gave the power to the people and that’s where I believe it belongs,” Smiley said. “I respect the will of the voters here in Washington state. So I will do is ensure that women have access to health care, that they have access, and affordable access, to contraception and child care. Unlike Senator Murray, who’s been there for 30 years, I will go get that done for women.”

Smiley accused Murray of supporting taxpayer-funded abortion, available all the way up until birth.

Murray says there is a big difference in the two candidates’ views on abortion, that Smiley has expressed her view that she is 100% pro-life and she warned what will happen if Republicans take control of the Senate.

“We have women coming here to Washington state because they can’t get reproductive care where they live. We have providers, right here in Spokane, who live in Idaho and are worried that the work they do every day to save lives and help women, they will be arrested when they go home,” Murray said. “We have trackers who are following women in this country, using their phone apps to make sure that they know where they went and, when they come home, threaten them with arrest. This cannot be.”

On changing or removing the four Lower Snake River dams:

“Breaching our dams would be detrimental, not just to our farmers and our agriculture, it would mean more trucks on the road as well as turning the lights out on every Washingtonian,” Smiley said.

“It’s important to know that salmon is part of our economy. It’s part of our culture and it’s part of our tribal obligations,” Murray said. “We have an obligation to solve the declining salmon populations.”

That solution, she said, must be balanced. She acknowledged that, for now, the solutions on the table, including dam breaching, are not sufficiently balanced. She said the region must continue to work toward a plan that helps salmon, while not causing damage to the economy and electricity supply.

You can hear the entire hour-long debate from Gonzaga’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center here or Tuesday at noon on KPBX and Tuesday at 6 pm on KSFC.

The candidates are also scheduled to hold a town hall meeting in Seattle on October 30.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.