OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has a sign on his desk that reads “Action … this Day,” an order Winston Churchill once slapped on urgent memos during World War II.
Yet there are rumblings from the GOP-led Senate, business and even some Democrats that Inslee’s administration has been slow out of the gate since he took office a month ago.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom of Medina contends that the governor has not moved fast enough appointing cabinet members and pushing major legislation. Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle has concerns about Inslee’s plan to submit only a partial budget this session.
Inslee takes the critiques in stride.
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“We feel very comfortable and I’m very satisfied with where we are,” he said during an interview last week. “We’ve followed the advice of Republican and Democratic governors who all had bipartisan advice for me, which is to make the right decision, not the expedient one.”
Several lawmakers also say the governor is doing just fine since he took office a month ago.
“I think he’s coming along quite well in terms of timing,” said House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.
Both Tom and Murray questioned Inslee’s plans not to submit a full budget this session, something that predecessors Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke did in their first months in office.
“When you are in a budget as tight as this, it’s important to give overall direction, but it’s also important to let people know where you are on the details because in a tight budget the details can cause budget agreements to collapse,” Murray said.
Inslee said he doesn’t see the need.
“The statute requires the predecessor to produce a budget. It does not call for the current governor to produce a budget. I think we’re going to try to create a priority document for legislative review,” he said.
Gregoire did write a budget in December, and it’s currently the only two-year spending plan that has been proposed this session. The House and Senate are expected to come out with their own plans in March.
Inslee noted: “I’ve served as a legislator since 1988. Having seen the workings of budgets both in this town and Washington, D.C., I think legislators are not particularly impressed by the last few nickels of the budget.”
Chopp agreed, saying he was OK with a partial budget. House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, also saw no need for a detailed plan from the governor.
Hunter said by the time Inslee could produce a budget, the House and Senate will likely have theirs laid out. If Inslee then produces his own, “What am I going to do with it?” Hunter asked.
Since taking office on Jan. 16, Inslee has made 14 Cabinet appointments, including the heads of the Department of Social and Health Services, Ecology and Corrections. His hires include a mix of old hands and new blood from outside state government.
About a dozen key appointments remain, including for transportation secretary. The current secretary, Paula Hammond, has said she wants to stay. Inslee’s staff said several of the remaining positions will be filled within days.
Tom feels the governor should be moving faster.
“It seems slow. I’ve had several agency heads in who don’t know if they’re the agency head or not,” he said.
Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, agreed the pace hasn’t been as quick as in some other administrations.
“I think just getting everybody in place has been a little slower than I’ve seen and I’ve been here since Dixy,” he said, referring to the late Dixy Lee Ray, who was governor in the late 1970s.
On the other hand, Brunell said, he likes the people Inslee has picked. “Taking your time and getting the right people in spots is important. It think that’s been a pretty good accomplishment for him.”
Inslee and his staff say they’ve been doing exactly that, and the governor has been actively involved in interviewing candidates.
Although Inslee came into office promising to bring “disruptive change to Olympia,” Senate Republicans are the ones who have shaken things up so far this year.
The GOP upended the Senate on the first day of the session when their 23-member caucus took control from Democrats with help of two Democratic senators — Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch — who crossed party lines to join with the Republicans.
Since then they’ve taken up a wide range of bills, including proposals to revamp the state’s workers’ compensation system and make controversial changes to K-12 education such as giving letter grades to public schools.
Inslee says he’s moving forward on his agenda as well.
Early in the session he proposed legislation dealing with a long-term plan for improving water supplies in Central Washington’s Yakima River Basin.
And last week he rolled out a jobs package that, among other things, would provide tax breaks for startups in certain fields, and create 500 new slots in aerospace-training programs.
He’s also been working with the U.S. Justice Department to implement Initiative 502, the voter-approved measure that legalized recreational marijuana use by adults over 21.
“I’ve learned from long experience they count the game at the end of the game, not at the beginning of the game,” Inslee said. He added, “The issue as far as who is driving the bus here, I think we’re all driving together and I don’t look at this as a mutually exclusive thing.”
Behind the scenes
His staff also says the administration is busy behind the scenes with work that isn’t talked about at news conferences.
Kevin Quigley, Inslee’s new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, recalled telling the governor about a shortage of staff in Child Protective Services (CPS).
Quigley said he presented Inslee with a proposal to fix the problem, but Inslee wanted more.
“His actual words were: ‘You have to look at this like it’s New Orleans and there are kids on the roof top. How are we going to rescue those kids?’ ” Quigley recalled.
In some areas of the state, CPS workers were managing 40 to 50 cases each, a number that needed to be brought down to 18 open cases per worker, Quigley said.
Inslee told him to do what was needed to fix the problem, including using overtime and bringing in outside staff in the short term, and hiring 50 additional people in the longer term.
“By March 1, he wants to see the results and if we’re not moving fast enough we’ll have to find some other steps,” Quigley said.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org