Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee officially launched his campaign for governor Monday with a call to build "a working Washington" by attracting and growing innovative companies across the state.

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Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee jumped into the 2012 governor’s race Monday, pledging a relentless focus on high-tech and green-job creation to pull the state out of the economic downturn.

Speaking to a small crowd of supporters at Targeted Growth, a Seattle biofuels company, Inslee said Washington needs a governor who will attract and grow innovative companies across the state.

“We will build the most robust, innovative job-creating economy of any state in America,” he said.

Inslee, 60, a seven-term congressman from Bainbridge Island, gave a generally upbeat speech, pointing to examples of companies like Targeted Growth, which has married agriculture with aerospace by creating jet fuel out of camelina, a nonfood oilseed plant.

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“This seed of innovation is the thing we need to see sprout all across the state of Washington,” he said, holding up a vial of the seeds.

Wearing bluejeans and a blazer, Inslee said he brings a perspective on jobs from the many he’s worked in his life, from driving a cement truck to growing alfalfa in Eastern Washington to going after drunken drivers as a small-town prosecutor.

Inslee’s jobs theme stood in some contrast to his chief rival, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, whose recent campaign announcement focused primarily on a leaner state government that could devote more tax money to schools and colleges.

Gov. Chris Gregoire announced this month that she won’t seek a third term.

Though Inslee was light on specifics, he did propose one concrete idea to spark job creation. He said the state pension fund should be allowed to invest money in startup companies that pledge to remain in the state.

Questioned about that plan, Inslee said he did not yet have a detailed proposal, but that it would likely involve putting “tens of millions” in innovative startups chosen by the state pension board.

Inslee acknowledged “any investment has risk,” but said his idea would only involve a small percentage of the pension fund, which manages more than $82 billion in investments to pay for the retirement benefits of state workers.

Republicans immediately attacked that idea.

State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur said it didn’t make sense for the state to risk money on businesses that private investors weren’t funding. “I think it’s a very big risk to take with state pension money,” he said.

More than any specific plan, Inslee spoke of a singular focus he’d bring to growing jobs.

If elected governor, Inslee said he’d personally work to lure new firms here. “I will cajole, needle, talk, persuade, work to keep your business and move your business in the state of Washington,” he said.

While McKenna’s kickoff speech blamed state spending on employees for much of its budget woes, Inslee was less critical in his assessment of the system controlled for decades by his fellow Democrats. But he did allow that state government has grown “ossified,” adding “I think we need some new blood in Olympia.”

To change the culture of government, Inslee said he’d import private-sector management philosophies — citing efficiency-improvement regimens such as Six Sigma or “lean manufacturing” that seek constantly to eliminate waste.

In an interview, Inslee said that while he has never implemented those in his congressional office or other jobs, in researching the ideas in recent months he has come to believe they’d benefit state government.

To free up more money for education, Inslee said he’d work to control health-care costs in state government by promoting more efficient delivery of services.

He would not say whether state workers should pay a larger share of their health-care cost.

During a news conference, Inslee said he did not favor tax increases, with the possible exception of ending a tax break for out-of-state banks that some Democrats in the Legislature unsuccessfully targeted.

Inslee took a swipe at McKenna on one point, calling his promises to redirect a higher portion of the state budget to education “wildly unrealistic” and based on “a fantasy.” Inslee said that when he proposes more detailed plans, he’ll use “real numbers.”

In a marked contrast to McKenna on a major social issue, Inslee also came out strongly in support of gay marriage. “I’ve been married for 38 years and I fundamentally believe that no government and no politician should deny any of my fellow Washingtonians the right to have what I have,” he said.

Asked about high-profile efforts to legalize marijuana, Inslee said, “I’m not there yet,” though he’d work to stave off federal interference with the state’s medical-marijuana law.

Inslee, who has represented the state’s 1st Congressional District since 1999, will try to keep a long Democratic gubernatorial winning streak alive. No Republican has been elected governor in Washington since John Spellman in 1980.

After his Seattle stop, Inslee was off to an event in the Yakima area, which he previously represented in Congress and in the Legislature. On Tuesday, he plans additional kickoff events in Tacoma, Spokane and Vancouver.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or

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