Gov. Jay Inslee — and Washington voters — deserve better competition in this year’s gubernatorial election.
Inslee’s first two terms as governor are marred by severe problems, including scandalous mismanagement of prisons and the state’s mental-health system, and by kowtowing to his labor-union backers.
The state’s inexcusable struggles to sort everyone’s unemployment assistance and inadequate explanation of Employment Security Department decisions that left the state vulnerable to massive fraud fall on Inslee as Washington’s chief executive.
Inslee also spent much of 2019 chasing another job — a longshot presidential bid that cost state taxpayers more than $600,000 in additional security costs.
Then came the pandemic, and Inslee rose to the challenge. His strong leadership on this front made Washington an early model for how states should respond and flatten the curve.
Because this ongoing crisis demands an experienced administrator, and one who prioritizes science-based actions for health and safety, Inslee should be reelected to one last term.
Thirty-six gubernatorial candidates are on the primary ballot, including gadflies, extremists and novices. Yet Inslee is the only real choice.
Democrats who could have posed a serious challenge all fell in line when Inslee announced he would run again. Promising Republicans declined to run, in what will likely be a blue-wave year.
The leading challengers all have baggage. The one most credible, physician Raul Garcia, is the pick of venerable Republican leaders, including former Gov. Dan Evans and former Secretary of State Sam Reed.
The Yakima Republican has an impressive professional résumé. But he has little civic experience, hasn’t voted since 2012 and sends troublingly mixed messages about public-safety measures.
Another is Loren Culp, chief of the city of Republic’s two-person police department. He refused to uphold a law passed by the people of Washington requiring modest gun-safety measures. His reactionary stance won over the fervid gun crowd. But it speaks poorly of his ability to govern and execute laws passed by the Legislature and the people.
Culp is also being sued for allegedly mishandling a sex-abuse case. He thought a girl made up allegations against a relative, who later pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree child molestation.
Also running is bankrupt initiative tout Tim Eyman. While being sued over alleged campaign-disclosure violations, the former watch salesman was fined for refusing to follow court orders. Eyman’s anti-tax rhetoric resonates with many voters, but he’d be a disastrous governor.
Former Bothell Mayor Joshua Freed, a developer, caused an uproar in 2014 after he bought acreage the city considered acquiring for open space. Freed was cleared by an ethics inquiry, and the acreage was acquired by a conservation group. But the episode prompted calls for Freed’s removal and voters spurning his allies in the next election.
Freed also sued Inslee over stay-home orders but dropped his case after realizing the orders didn’t actually prohibit his Bible study sessions.
State Sen. Phil Fortunato has Olympia experience. But the Auburn Republican can be an obstreperous culture warrior, and party leaders chose another horse.
This field makes it look as if Inslee selected challengers who collectively accomplish one thing: Make him look good by comparison.
That’s despite weak fiscal leadership, where the boldness Inslee showed with quarantine orders has yet to reveal itself.
Despite a projected $8.8 billion budget shortfall, he declined to cancel union-negotiated 3% raises for state employees. That would have saved nearly $800 million over three years, helping preserve critical services.
Inslee gave the raise and instituted furloughs, so Washingtonians will pay more and get less public service. Meanwhile, New York’s governor canceled a 2% raise and California’s cut salaries 10%.
Still, Inslee remains the best choice.
It will be difficult sticking to health guidance and supporting each other through the pandemic, reviving the economy and maintaining core government services.
The last thing Washington needs is an extremist or divisive governor with negligible experience and disdain for experts and laws — and little chance of getting things done with the Legislature.
Last year, this board urged Inslee to retire. By seeking a third term, he’s creating a logjam of promising leaders at different levels of government, all waiting for him to move on.
Voters should elect Inslee one last time and demand he show as much discipline and objectivity in the looming fiscal crisis as he did during the coronavirus outbreak.