YAKIMA, Wash. — Raul Garcia is attempting to cast himself as the moderate candidate that's missing in an otherwise unpredictable race to take on Gov. Jay Inslee.
"I was venting to my wife one night in a campfire," he said. "And she looked at me and she said, ‘Why don't you put your guts where your mouth is? And run?’"
The Yakima doctor did so by filing at the very last minute without campaigning or fundraising in advance.
Yet, he racked up mainstream, moderate endorsements who view him as an alternative to other candidates with more extreme views. Former Gov. Dan Evans, Former Sen. Slade Gorton and Former Attorney General Rob McKenna all endorsed the political novice, as have two former Republican secretaries of state and a former state Supreme Court chief justice.
Garcia told a story of escaping Cuba as a young boy and getting his medical license before settling into Central Washington where he runs a Yakima clinic and works in the ER of a Tri Cities hospital. It has allowed him, he said, to serve on the front lines of the pandemic and see what he believes are missteps by the current state administration.
"One of the things that I didn't like to begin with is that we did not shield our most vulnerable population," he said.
Garcia took specific aim at Inslee.
"What I have seen here is that there is no interest in the balance of the health of our citizens and the health of our businesses, especially small businesses that have gone bankrupt because of this time," Garcia said.
Although Yakima County has had one of the highest rates of infection in the country, Garcia said, "the numbers are not very alarming to me. As long as I see what I'm seeing, the hospitalizations are down, and the death rate is down."
He advocated for mask use and said he believes school could be taught in person this fall with teachers wearing face shields if need be.
Garcia also said he believes a fresh change is needed in Olympia, pointing in particular to the handling of unemployment claims. He said he would have fired Employment Security Department Director Suzi LeVine and held the department more accountable for its mistakes.
And he made his own. During the course of his short campaign, his opponents pointed out he has failed to vote since 2012 and was arrested in 2014 for DUI in King County in which police said his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
His campaign consultant released a statement Monday that Garcia was "discouraged about the prospect of winning elections in Washington. He now believes that it was a mistake to give up and that democracy is worth fighting for – that’s why he’s running for governor."
As far as the DUI, "Dr. Garcia had not slept in 70 hours at the time, and the subsequent incident was in part driven by the biological effects of extreme exhaustion,” his campaign consultant said. “That said, he has acknowledged his mistake, makes no excuses, sought and received forgiveness from his family and his community, and takes responsibility for his actions."
Yet, those mistakes haven't dissuaded his big-name Republican supporters, some of whom have said they won't vote to re-elect Donald Trump. When asked about the president, Garcia said, "I am running to govern Washington state. And I want to concentrate in this unity that I would like to accomplish that I think would be very possible, and it won't be about Democrats or Republicans. It'll be about one united Washington."
"I think that the President has done a lot of good things for this country,” he continued. “I think that he has shown us how to succeed financially. I think that he has protected the people and given them the safety. We don't talk about al Qaeda or ISIS anymore. I understand the discontent with him in certain things. So, the President has not asked for my endorsement, we'll cross that bridge when we get there. I think that I will never, as a public official, speak ill of a sitting president of the United States."