OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee took office on Wednesday, promising to bring “disruptive change” to Olympia and tackle a range of issues from gun violence to better funding for public schools.
The new governor was sworn in at the Capitol rotunda surrounded by cheering supporters before making his way to the House chambers to address a joint session of the state Legislature shortly after noon.
The address for the most part went over well-trodden ground from his gubernatorial campaign, but Inslee said he wants to start on a bipartisan-transportation package this session, sign the “Reproductive Parity Act” into law and dig into gun control.
“I heard a clear and powerful message on Election Day. The people of Washington state are tired of a state government that doesn’t change with the times,” Inslee said. “Today we begin a multiyear effort to bring disruptive change to Olympia, starting with the very core of how we do business.”
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The speech drew high marks from Democrats. “I love that he was focused on family and jobs, because those are things that are really important to House Democrats,” said Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood.
House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt said parts of the address concerned him, such as Inslee urging the Legislature to approve the Reproductive Parity Act.
The proposal would require health-insurance plans covering maternity care to also pay for abortions. A bill has already been introduced in the state Senate, sponsored by Sens. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens and Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island.
“That was a surprise to me that that came up in his speech today,” DeBolt said. “It was funny that he would take a day of unification and try to make it a politically dividing event … I don’t like special-interest politics being brought up in the (inaugural) address.”
In his speech, Inslee said, “Washington women need the freedom and privacy to make the health-care decisions that are best for themselves and their families. That’s why I look forward to the Legislature sending the Reproductive Parity Act to my desk, which I will sign. Let’s get this done.”
Regarding guns and violence, Inslee referenced the recent shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut as well as violence in Washington state.
“Any failure to address the issue of violence in our communities and our schools will be intolerable,” he said. “In the coming weeks, I will work with the Legislature to address this crisis responsibly. … Common sense tells us that this solution will involve mental health and keeping guns out of the wrong hands.”
On transportation, the governor said, “This session, I expect to work with stakeholders that have already committed to a bipartisan plan to build an infrastructure for the next generation. … I want us to turn our innovative spirit towards crafting a transportation package that includes roads, trains, light rail, buses, bike routes and other modes of transportation.”
Inslee’s address dealt with familiar themes, reinvigorating the state’s lagging economy, creating jobs, health-care reform, and climate change. He offered few specifics on what he plans to do in those areas.
Inslee enters office two days into a 105-day legislative session in which lawmakers will have to close a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall and respond to a state Supreme Court order to increase education funding. Inslee has pledged to do all of that without raising taxes, although fellow Democrats are skeptical that can be done.
Inslee, a 61-year-old longtime congressman born in Seattle, defeated Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna in the November election. He succeeds Chris Gregoire, a Democrat who gave her final State of the State address Tuesday.
The new governor celebrated his inauguration with a basketball game Wednesday afternoon. Some 3,000 people attended the formal inaugural ball Wednesday evening.
Seattle Times reporters Brian Rosenthal and Amelia Dickson contributed to this story.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org