Governor Jay Inslee Launches Presidential Campaign with Optimism about Halting Climate Change
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee has decided to plunge into the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race Friday. His decision mixed one part dire warning and three parts sunny optimism about a national campaign centered on halting catastrophic global climate change.
At the time of the announcement, before a crowd of perhaps 200 supporters at A&R Solar, a solar-panel-installation company based in South Seattle, he pointed to increasingly intense forest fires and other potential effects of rising global temperatures.
“The science on this is abundantly clear. We have a very short period of time to act, and whether we shrink to this challenge or rise to it is the vital question of our time,” Inslee said, vowing to stand out as the only candidate who’d make climate change the number one national priority if elected president.
However, Governor Inslee did not roll out a detailed climate plan, saying he’ll introduce specific proposals in the coming months. But he outlined four “pillars.” They are a transition to a 100 percent clean-energy economy, creation of millions of good-paying jobs, ensuring equity for disadvantaged communities and an end to subsidies for fossil fuels.
“When I am president, not one nickel of taxpayer money will go to subsidize oil and gas,” Inslee said.
The optimistic governor emphasized the positives of an energy-sector transformation as a jobs program, pointing to the event host, A&R Solar, which he said grew from two employees in 2006 to more than 70 today.
“Climate change is not more important than the economy. It is the economy,” he said.
By this declaration, Inslee, 68, joins a throng of declared candidates for the Democratic nomination, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Other big names like vice president Joe Biden and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, may join soon. John Hickenlooper, who just wrapped up two terms as Colorado governor, is also considering his own announcement as early as next week.
Inslee now plans to hit the road immediately, heading to New York City for media interviews, and to Iowa on Tuesday, which will be followed by a trip to Nevada and California later in the week.
However, in early polling, Inslee has sat at the bottom of the heap, registering zero percent in some surveys. But his focused message, potential financial and volunteer support from environmentalists has the potential to push his numbers up quickly, some backers at Friday’s event said.
“I think right now people are talking about climate change across the country in a way they haven’t across the years,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of Washington Conservation Voters. “The conversation has started. And he can ignite the conversation and keep it going, and that’s what I think the biggest potential is for his launch. Let’s see where it goes.”
The Republican National Committee (RNC) mocked Inslee in an email to reporters.
“Jay Inslee’s chances of becoming president are exactly what he’s polling at zero. His campaign will only force Democrats into embracing more extreme policies, like a carbon tax, which would kill jobs, raise energy prices and disproportionately hurt working-class Americans,” RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens said in a statement.
It should be noted that Inslee has made climate change a signature issue throughout his political career, championing clean energy and efforts to tax carbon during more than a decade in Congress. He also assisted in writing a book, “Apollo’s Fire,” that called for a national emphasis on research and deployment of clean-energy technology akin to the Apollo project that led to the moon landing.
Inslee’s climate agenda since taking office in 2013 has had mixed success. The State has now subsidized clean-power research and energy-efficiency projects, but the Legislature has refused to pass sweeping plans to impose carbon-pollution fees sought by Inslee. Last year, voters overwhelmingly rejected a carbon-fee initiative strongly backed by Inslee that drew $30 million in opposition spending by the oil industry.
In an interview, Inslee did not rule out proposing a national carbon tax but portrayed it as one option among many.
“The one thing we have learned, and it’s good news, is there are multiple ways to skin this cat,” he said, pointing to clean-energy proposals moving through the state Legislature. “I would not take that off the table at the moment, but as we have proved in Washington, we can make progress even without a carbon price.”
With freshly powered Democratic majorities, the Legislature is pushing through Inslee’s latest set of climate proposals. Even as Inslee was closing his speech on Friday, his proposal to phase out fossil-fuel based power in Washington electric utilities by 2045 passed the state Senate by a vote of 28-19.
Even kicking off a campaign for the White House, Inslee has not denied of a run for a third term as governor in 2020 if he drops out of the presidential race.
The state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and King County Executive Dow Constantine acknowledged they’d consider seeking Inslee’s job if he does not run again.
“He’s earned that right. I am excited he is running for president. We’ll see how it works out for him and give him some time to decide about whether he wants to come back and run for a third term,” said Ferguson.
“I could not be more excited about his candidacy,” said Constantine, praising Inslee’s speech as a genuine reflection of the governor’s long-held values.