Justice Susan Owens pulls out of debate
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Justice Susan Owens pulled out of the sole state Supreme Court debate on Monday, just hours before she was to face off with state Sen. Stephen Johnson, citing concern that one of the moderators had donated to her opponent's campaign.
The Monday debate was sponsored at the College Club in Seattle by the Downtown Seattle Republican Club. Owens' campaign sent out an e-mail saying that "we do not feel that it will be a level playing field."
Enlisted as moderators were Stefan Sharkansky, a conservative blogger for soundpolitics.com, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly.
Sharkansky has endorsed Johnson, a Republican from Kent, and donated $100 to the campaign in May, according to campaign finance records. The P-I has endorsed Owens.
Phil Bevis, the debate organizer, asked Owens to reconsider, but her campaign decided against it.
Owens and Johnson survived a five-way primary in September to advance to the Nov. 7 general election ballot. Owens got 46 percent of the vote in the primary and Johnson got almost 35 percent.
While they have both appeared at judicial forums, Monday's event was the only planned debate.
Initially, the debate sponsors had wanted someone from the alternative weekly The Stranger to co-moderate with Sharkansky, but the Johnson campaign refused to agree to the debate unless sponsors picked someone else, and Connelly was selected.
Both campaigns agreed to the debate format, rules, and moderators on Thursday night, Bevis said.
Johnson's campaign said that if Owens' campaign staffers had any issue with Sharkansky, they should have spoken up before agreeing to the debate.
"She just doesn't want to debate him," said Fawn Spady, a spokeswoman for the Johnson campaign. "I think voters should be concerned that a member of the state Supreme Court doesn't feel comfortable being in a debate environment."
Owens' staff said the withdrawal was not a case of Owens getting cold feet, or not knowing who Sharkansky was before the debate was agreed to.
"Obviously everyone knows where Sharkansky is coming from on the race," said Christian Sinderman, a consultant for Owens' campaign. "Unfortunately, it wasn't until the weekend that we were able to fully brief Justice Owens and researched the true extent of his involvement in the Johnson campaign."
Sharkansky said he would have treated both candidates the same.
"We wanted to make this an interesting panel," he said, noting that with the inclusion of Connelly, "we got someone from the other side of the political spectrum."
The two candidates are next set to meet at a judicial forum Friday in Olympia.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company