Gov. Jay Inslee, despite his faults, is the better choice for Governor.

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THIS should be a very good year for a governor seeking re-election in Washington. A recovering economy pushed unemployment rates in all 39 counties back to single digits. Bipartisan agreements in Olympia produced historic infrastructure and education investments.

Yet the choice is not so simple for voters. Gov. Jay Inslee has strong political skills, some notable accomplishments, and he has improved as he has settled into Olympia. But those factors must be weighed against his significant failures of management and leadership.

His challenger, Bill Bryant, is a likable, moderate Republican who is largely unknown to voters. His campaign hasn’t changed that. Bryant runs a small lobbying and public-relations firm, and his civic résumé, which includes two terms on the Port of Seattle Commission, needed one or two more lines to make him a first-tier candidate.

The Times recommends:

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee


Strengths: Strong political skills; some notable accomplishments; has improved as he has settled into Olympia

Inslee gets The Seattle Times editorial board’s endorsement because he is more likely to be constructive as the Legislature pushes through crucial reforms of Washington’s broken education-financing model. ..."

Read all editorial recommendations —>

It’s a difficult choice. Inslee gets The Seattle Times editorial board’s endorsement because he is more likely to be constructive as the Legislature pushes through crucial reforms of Washington’s broken education-financing model.

The Legislature responded to the Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling — which said Washington has constitutionally underfunded its public K-12 schools — by dramatically increasing funding operations and transportation. What remains is untenable inequity for students across the state. But lawmakers left the hardest part for the 2017 session — relieving the reliance on local school levies for the full cost of teachers’ salaries.

That will require dramatic policy and funding shifts in the upcoming legislative session. Inslee has convened and assigned a key staffer to support a small, bipartisan legislative task force, and he appears committed to finishing the job. That will cost money and require new revenue.

But more money must buy better outcomes, including higher graduation rates (now only at 78 percent), closing the achievement gap and ensuring graduates don’t need remedial classes for college or career training.

Bryant also understands the problem, but has a novice’s eager desire to start from scratch. His proposals would have been timely four years ago, but now could gum up the progress made thus far.

Overall, Inslee’s record is mixed. He flip-flopped on his 2012 no-new-taxes campaign pledge at the first opportunity. He has marginalized himself at times with a lack of deal-making skills.

But he also showed leadership in reconvening the Legislature to pass a tax-incentive package critical to Boeing’s 777X production. He used his bully pulpit to help push through a $16 billion transportation package. When the business community protested his controversial carbon-reducing emissions standards, Inslee’s administration went back to the drawing board and came up with a better plan.

The governor has been a champion of the birth-to-college education continuum. He halted executions, although he hasn’t followed that up with strong advocacy for repeal of capital punishment. He solidly stood with the LGBTQ community during the transgender bathroom controversy.

But Inslee often reminded voters of his limited management experience upon arriving in the governor’s mansion, particularly regarding the mental-health system. His administration actually defended in court the inhumane boarding of psychiatric patients in emergency rooms and was held in contempt by a federal judge for the dysfunction at Western State Hospital, a state psychiatric hospital. He has tried to shift blame to the Legislature for a lack of funding, yet he vetoed lawmakers’ bipartisan plan to fix the hospital.

Bryant offers sharp critiques of Inslee, especially on the mental-health failures and on traffic congestion. But Bryant has not articulated better solutions. After four decades of Democratic governors, Bryant promises to bring a sharper budget knife to Olympia’s bureaucracy. That could be useful, if wielded wisely. But his enthusiasm for “zero-based budgeting” is more a talking point than a useful strategy.

We wish Bryant were a stronger challenger; Inslee certainly deserved one. But Bryant has not gained much traction even among Republicans hungry to end the nation’s longest single-party control of a governor’s mansion.

Inslee is an imperfect governor, but he’s the better choice this election.