Sheriff backs out just before Seabeck debate

Candidate for Kitsap County Sheriff Rick Kuss is calling out his opponent for a lack of transparency after having to cancel a debate at the Seabeck Conference Center Oct. 4.

The debate was supposed to be a chance for voters to see and hear from Kuss and incumbent John Gese ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Just hours before it was to begin, Gese announced he would be unable to attend.

This was not the first time a debate between the two candidates was canceled. Kuss refused to participate in a debate on Zoom scheduled by the League of Women Voters of Kitsap. He said he refused because it would have left little opportunity for connection and transparency with compared with an in-person debate.

A statement from Gese’s campaign says several voters had expressed a conflict with the debate and the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, which would start around the same time. “In observance of this holiday and support of religious diversity, John has decided not to participate in tonight’s event,” the statement reads.

The move was criticized by Kuss and his supporters, not because of the reasoning, but the sudden announcement on the day of the debate. “I feel that it was disrespectful because of the timing of it,” Kuss said, “but I would have compromised had it been, you know, a week ago.”

Voters still looking to gain information ahead of the election were still able to do so, as Kuss reformatted the event to a Question and Answer session at the Camp Union Saloon in Seabeck.

Kuss fielded questions about various issues in what he said was an attempt to be clear about his wishes for the sheriff’s office. “One thing as sheriff is I will make sure that communication will be a top priority for me so that people who work for me understand the direction and vision that I have,” he said.