In the five months since Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, he has spent more than half his days traveling out of state on the campaign trail.
Between March 1 and the end of July, Inslee was on the road for all or parts of 90 days out of 153, or nearly 60 percent, according to an analysis of his official calendar by The Seattle Times and public radio’s Northwest News Network.
On several of his partial travel days, Inslee departed late or returned early in the morning to focus on his official duties. On others he was gone most of the time.
Running a longshot, climate-focused campaign, Inslee has toured flooded towns in Iowa and solar installations in California, and been a regular guest in New York and Washington, D.C., cable news studios. He’s addressed the progressive Netroots Nation conference in Philadelphia and taken the stage for televised debates in Detroit and Miami.
In June, his peak travel month, Inslee was on the road for all or parts of 24 days. His longest uninterrupted stretch in Washington state spanned nine days between May 5 and 13.
Even while home, Inslee, who is paid $182,000 a year as governor, has divided his time between official duties and working on his presidential campaign.
On Friday, March 29, for example, the governor’s calendar shows he spent most of the day making political calls at his Seattle campaign headquarters, with the exception of half-hour prep session with his gubernatorial staff about congressional testimony he was scheduled to give a few days later.
The governor’s frequent cross-country treks have continued to cost Washington state taxpayers, with his State Patrol security detail racking up travel and overtime expenses totaling more than $580,000 between March and June, according to new figures released by the agency.
Inslee is the first Washington politician to run for the presidency since Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson sought the Democratic nomination in 1976, losing to former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter.
His base in the Pacific Northwest means Inslee has a long distance to get to most of the early 2020 primary states and the national media centers on the East Coast. He’s often packed in several states on cross-country hops, sometimes two or three in the same day.
Between June 1 and June 6, he attended a California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco, then flew to Iowa for a discussion with abortion-rights activists, a tour of a wind turbine lab and a meet-and-greet at a sports pub. He traveled to Detroit for a day, touring polluted neighborhoods, and then headed to New York City.
Arriving back in Washington state the morning of June 6, Inslee spent that day and the next mostly on official business, including a Spokane celebration of the Washington State University Medical School. On June 8, he hit the road again for six days, flying to Iowa followed by Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
In a statement Saturday, Inslee campaign spokesman Jamal Raad said the governor is “sharing the Washington story” across the country. “As he travels, Gov. Inslee has highlighted Washington’s success in standing up to Donald Trump’s hateful agenda, leading the nation in economic growth, and progressive successes on 100% clean energy, paid family leave, minimum wage, and gun safety laws,” he said.
A grueling political schedule was to be expected once Inslee launched his White House bid while hanging on to his current job. It’s a balance that other Democratic presidential hopefuls, including several U.S. senators, are striking as well.
John Weingart, director of the Eagleton Center on the American Governor at Rutgers University, said politicians who run for president often face questions back home, but it’s “particularly true” for governors.
“It could be seen as flattering that your governor is being considered by at least some people as possible president, but it seems to be more often seen as a something negative,” he said.
The frequent travel “does not mean the governor is shirking his duties, necessarily,” Weingart said, pointing to leaders who delegate work to trusted staff. The biggest pitfall is a disaster occurring at home while an elected leader is absent. “You do run that risk of being away, period,” he said.
Inslee declined to be interviewed for this story. He previously has brushed off criticism by Republicans of his travel, saying he “can do this work anywhere there is a cellphone, and I do it.”
David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff, said the governor’s absences have not impaired his office’s operations. He noted Inslee was traveling out of state before his presidential run — “frankly, every governor always travels” — and said the office has protocols to ensure work gets done.
“The fact of the matter is the decision-making chain hasn’t changed because of his travel,” Postman said. Over more than six years in office, the governor’s staff has learned his priorities and is able to reach him when a top-level decision is required, he said.
Postman also pointed to the latest legislative session, in which Inslee and legislative Democrats won some significant and long-sought victories. That included passage of a 100 percent clean-power law and a bill creating a public option for the state’s health-insurance exchange.
Inslee’s schedule shows he usually sets aside a half-hour a day to speak by phone with senior staff when he is traveling in other states. Postman said Inslee also checks in at other times and sometimes calls agency officials directly, in exchanges not always reflected on his official calendar.
Postman acknowledged the governor’s out-of-state travel has cut into his availability for outreach visits with communities around the state and for constituents seeking meetings in Olympia. “We have done fewer of those, obviously,” he said.
Inslee’s campaign continues to be partly subsidized by taxpayers, who are paying for the Washington State Patrol security detail, which accompanies him wherever he goes. Troopers on the detail, known as the Executive Protection Unit, travel with Inslee and drive him to and from events.
From March through June, the unit racked up $313,000 in travel expenses, including airfare and hotels, and worked nearly 3,500 hours of overtime at a cost of $268,000, nearly all attributable to the governor’s out-of-state trips, according to the patrol.
The security unit was expanded this year, at a cost estimated at nearly $4 million over two years, assuming Inslee stays in the presidential race into 2020.
The only other current Democratic governor running for president, Montana’s Steve Bullock, recently agreed to have his campaign pay for travel, lodging and meals of his state security detail when it accompanies him on out-of-state campaign trips, according to Montana Public Radio.
Inslee has declined calls to follow suit, pointing to a state law requiring the patrol to provide security to every governor. His campaign has reimbursed the state about $9,000 for costs of some security-related car rentals, as required by federal election rules.
In an email blast last month, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) said taxpayers have “unwillingly become the largest contributors to Inslee’s failing campaign.”
An RGA spokeswoman, Amelia Chassé Alcivar, said: “By forcing his constituents to foot the bill while he flies around the country speaking to empty rooms, Governor Inslee is proving on a daily basis that it’s time for a leadership change in Washington state.”
With his campaign struggling in the polls, it’s not clear how much longer Inslee’s intense travel schedule will continue. He campaigned in Nevada over the weekend and this week is scheduled to attend the Iowa State Fair.
To qualify for the next presidential debate in September, Inslee must show he has attracted 130,000 donors and hit 2 percent support in four qualifying polls. His campaign says has surpassed 100,000 donors, but he has not hit the polling target in any survey.
His campaign says 25,000 donations poured in since his performance in the second Democratic debate last week.
“People want a candidate in this race that takes the climate crisis seriously and has a plan to move our nation off fossil fuels and on to clean energy,” Raad said.