Our new governor is 80 days into his first term. The word that pops to mind to describe him so far is “Clintonian.”
Gov. Jay Inslee’s got some of the exuberance and energy of Bill Clinton. But unfortunately some of that Slick Willie bamboozlement, too.
Right out of the gate, on two of the biggest issues facing him, Inslee has been doing a Clinton two-step with some of his own campaign pledges.
First up was taxes. Candidate Inslee said declaratory things like, “I would veto anything that heads the wrong direction, and the wrong direction is new taxes in the state of Washington.” But as you probably know by now, Governor Inslee already has plans to raise $1.2 billion in taxes.
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His explanation isn’t as preposterous as parsing what the definition of the word “is” is. But it is disingenuous. It’s that most of the taxes are existing taxes that were scheduled to expire. So by continuing them he isn’t technically raising anything new.
But let’s look closely at one, the beer tax. In 2010 a temporary tax was levied on large beer producers to help the state get through the recession. It expires June 30, but Inslee proposed making it permanent.
“The amount people will be spending for beer is the same tomorrow as it was yesterday, so I am fulfilling my commitments to a T,” he said.
Not exactly. The original tax applied only to big breweries, that sell more than 60,000 barrels a year in the state. Inslee wants to broaden that to include smaller breweries. So the small guys wonder, properly: How is that not a new tax? It sure is to them.
Inslee says he is only closing a loophole on the small breweries. So in his mind he’s getting two pints of taxes, without technically ordering even one.
Then last week, Inslee, who had campaigned on the idea of rating all public schools with a single letter grade of A to F, shifted from that stance and said he didn’t support a bill to do exactly that.
“ ‘I support school grading; now I don’t support school grading,’ ” one Republican mocked. “He seems very conflicted.”
Yes. President Clinton pulled this same shape-shift many times, in his case depending on how the political winds were blowing.
Personally, I prefer these stands of new Governor Inslee to those of old Candidate Inslee. I agree with the governor that we need taxes to support colleges and public schools. Candidate Inslee shamelessly hedged on that issue.
And the idea of giving entire schools a single letter grade is one of the most shallow to come down the pike in some time. Take my daughter’s middle school, which has 1,150 students in it, with programs for everyone from the city’s most advanced to non-English speakers to kids so physically disabled they have difficulty holding a pen. Based on all the state test scores, the school probably would get a “C.” Which reveals … nothing about what goes on inside.
So I think Governor Inslee is right to take these stances.
But would it have killed Candidate Inslee to take them, too?
Maybe it would have. Truth-telling isn’t rewarded much by the voting public. Plus one thing I learned from watching the master Bill Clinton is that political opportunism isn’t always fatal to leadership. He spun, he BS’ed, he eventually outright lied. It was disappointing. He turned out to be a pretty good president anyway.
Inslee? Too soon to tell. But he’s already risking that these first impressions could turn into a reputation.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org