Should Jay Inslee throw his hat into the ring for president, he would become the first Washingtonian to do so since the revered “Scoop” Jackson in 1976
Photo via KIRO.com
“On the next “People’s Court,” President Donald Trump vs. a Nordstom Manager.” – The conclusion of a recent Saturday Night Live skit where President Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) and the three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court appeared before Judge Marilyn Milian on the “People’s Court.”
I’ll be darned if I’m going to spend the next 2 ½ years thinking about who the Democrats are going to make as their standard-bearer for 2020 but as someone who thrives in the world of political commentary, I guess I’d be abdicating my responsibilities were I to not spend some of the time doing so. And consistent with any dropping of potential names years before primary season gets under way – particularly for a party out of power, a number of figures would be “dark-horses” little talked of as Presidential pedigree, and with almost zero name recognition outside their home states. Let’s look at one.
The recent controversy surrounding the Trump administration’s ban on refugees has given a new face to shine: Governor Jay Inslee of Washington. Thinking, “Jay Who?” That’s natural. Around 2002, as the Bush administration commenced, few outside tiny Vermont had ever heard of a Governor named Howard Dean but through charisma, penache and good instincts (minus a scream), he soon displayed himself a force to be reckoned with. But Inslee’s durability in politics makes him very appealing as his political career has encompassed both the legislative and executive gamut and, having represented both liberal and conservative turf, nearly every conceivable part of the political spectrum. Indeed, he has been winning long-shot races for much of his career.
Washington State Governors do not face term limits so Inslee, 66, could theoretically run to succeed himself. But only one Washington Governor, the esteemed Dan Evans, has served three terms and few think Inslee will try to reach that. Whether Inslee is thinking about extending his career to the national stage is probably too early to tell. But he is not a man of vocal fireworks so, the fact that his rhetoric of late – particularly against the new administration, has been anything but docile, suggests that a run would not be far-fetched.
Inslee’s political career began as a member of the State House but went East when he undertook a long-shot race for a Yakima based U.S. House seat being vacated by Republican Congressman Sid Morrison in 1992. Neither the primary nor general elections were Inslee’s to lose but he squeaked past a better known State Senator, Jim Jesserlig, in the primary and the favorite, State Senator “Doc” Hastings in the general.
Inslee compiled a moderate image – in particular opposing Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget package. He championed Congressional reform, negotiated a long elusive compromise between landowners and environmentalists (the Yakima River Enhancement Act) and worked the district hard. But Inslee also supported the assault weapons ban and that hurt in this rural district that was also the most Republican in the state. It reverted back to its partisan leans in the “Contract with America” year of 1994 when Inslee lost a rematch to Hastings, though not badly (53-47%).However, Inslee got a second lease on life four years later when, having moved across the state to King County, local Democrats prevailed on him to challenge Republican Congressman Rick White. Once again, the incumbent began the race ahead but 1998 was the year of the Clinton-Lewinsky backlash and Inslee beat White. His next elections were mostly uneventful and he used his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee to promote clean energy and health care access (he sponsored the Patient Protection and Innovative Biologic Medicines Act of 2007). Inslee opposed the war in Iraq. In early 2012, Inslee resigned to seek the open Governorship and defeated the sitting Attorney General 52-48%.
As Governor, Inslee was instrumental in pushing through a transportation package, a reduction in carbon emissions standards and a tax on capital gains. He has been an avid booster of pre-K and fought hard for a minimum wage increase. He advocated for more waste tanks to clean up the Hanford Nuclear power plant and created the Office of Youth Homelessness in the state Commerce Department. He has vociferously championed gun control and LGBT rights.
Inslee’s life-long passion (he was at the first world environmental conference in Stockholm, Sweden as a 21-year-old in 1972) has been sustainability and his career has offered plenty of red meat to advocates of the movement. He has been a hero to conservation advocates, who bestowed on him a “Friend of the National Parks” Award and crusaded against keeping oil tankers out of Puget Sound. In the House, he introduced the New Apollo Project which linked jobs and economic stimulation to an environmental revolution. That led to a book, Apollo’s Fire; Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy, which he co-authored with Bracken Hendricks. In 2015, he authored an editorial in the Seattle Times vowing to “not fall victim to the fear mongers who have attempted to block every clean-air and clean-water law since Earth Day 1970 by arguing we cannot have a healthy environment and a healthy economy. They have been wrong every time.”
There are a few issues that may dent Inslee’s knight in shining armor both with progressives and centrist voters. For starters, Inslee looked into a generous tax package to aimed at the Washington based Boeing, which some in the activist wing of the party may brand as corporate welfare. But the package was largely heralded. For independent voters, The Seattle Times reported that as of the end of the 2015-’16 school year, the high school graduation rate was only 78%. And he stumbled with his handling of the state’s mental health crisis. His rabid environmentalism may impact his ability to get back Democrats who swung violently to Trump in Western Pennsylvania and Southern Ohio, areas critical to swinging a state.
The Times, in endorsing Inslee’s 2016 bid for re-election, noted that “he flip-flopped on his 2012 no-new-taxes campaign pledge at the first opportunity” and “has marginalized himself at times with a lack of deal-making skills.” But after his 54% win over a respected opponent, Ex Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant. Inslee jumped back into the saddle on mental health overhaul.
As far as personality traits, Inslee has a dry but understated and often biting wit. Near Valentine’s Day 2003, he presented the then-Chairman of the House Natural Resources, Republican Richard Pombo with “insect candy” (Pombo was not considered a friend of environmental interests). When asked his biggest regret during his debate with Bryant, he looked at Bryant and said, “I don’t know. Taking that check you contributed to me when I ran for Congress in 1994.” But it has been more recently on display when he spoke of the “train wreck” of the Executive Order. Of the Trump administration, said, These people couldn’t run a two-car funeral.”
Of late, Washington State has obviously been at the forefront of the resistance to President Trump’s refugee ban which expected or not, gives Inslee a national platform. He authored an editorial, “Why My State Won’t Close Its Doors to Syrian Refugees” and noted that the state has led the welcome for refugees once before – the Vietnamese in 1975 (Evans, the Republican Governor, noted differences between then and now).
Will Inslee become the first Washingtonian since the revered “Scoop’ Jackson in ’76 to seek his party’s nomination for president in 2020? I’m guessing he hasn’t even begun thinking about it. But if he opts to go forward, he cannot be dismissed. And that would give him a chance to add another notch to his already impressive string of offices.