The pros and one very big con (what would Bernie Sanders say?) to the idea of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee running for president.
Jay Inslee is sure talking and acting these days like he’s got designs on higher office. The highest one, in fact.
“I think 2020 should be a referendum on climate change, and we have to have a president who embraces science rather than ignorance,” our governor told The Seattle Times on Monday.
That’s framing the run for president as a race desperately in search of … himself.
“I have not ruled that out,” Inslee also said a couple weeks ago.
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In one sense, this is exciting, as our mossy, out-of-the-way state hasn’t fielded a serious presidential candidate for 42 years, when the late Henry “Scoop” Jackson won a couple of presidential primaries against Jimmy Carter in 1976.
But is it legit? What would happen if the little-known Inslee started storming through the barns of Iowa for the first presidential caucuses, scheduled for about 14 months from now? Would he have a chance?
The good news for Inslee is that he’s a great retail campaigner. I saw him once ignite a crowd of bored construction workers, which he did by selecting the oldest one there (Larry) and thereby pronouncing Larry as the state citizen of the day. Cheesy, but he had the workers whooping and pumping their fists. Just ask Republican Rob McKenna how maddening it is to run against the eternal sunshine of Jay.
Inslee has also made a bit of a name for himself as a fighter, especially on a few issues that matter to the far left — which is who dominates Democratic caucuses.
He took a bold stand against the death penalty, halting all executions in the state. And now capital punishment has been thrown out here by the courts.
He stood up against President Trump’s attacks on refugees, and has made Washington into an anti-MAGA oasis when it comes to welcoming the dispossessed. This year, Washington state ranks second in the nation for refugee resettlement, despite being only the 13th largest state.
Inslee doesn’t have many big legislative wins. Watch this space, though. For the first time he’s got sizable Democratic majorities in the Legislature and no budget crisis.
“This is going to go down as the ‘year of the environment’ in the Legislature,” predicted Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “We are going to make more progress on the environment than we’ve made in the past 20.”
Ranker said a carbon tax or fee, rejected twice now by voters, is less likely than a plan to convert the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Also in the works is possibly capping statewide emissions (a scheme to ramp down carbon pollution known as “cap-and-trade,” which Inslee has long favored).
I’m skeptical the politics of climate change is ballot-box gold, because it’s complex and inevitably involves higher prices on fossil fuels. Still, Inslee may be positioned to finally become “the nation’s greenest governor,” as he was billed when he got elected.
But — and you knew that was coming — Inslee has one major flop on his record, at least in the eyes of hardcore Democrats or socialists. It also happens to be his top accomplishment.
Inslee was the chief cheerleader of the largest corporate tax break in U.S. history, $8.7 billion to woo Boeing’s 777 plant here. Five years later, it still ranks No. 1 — twice as big, amazingly, as the controversial breaks Amazon just got from two states combined to bring 25,000 jobs to each.
Inslee can argue he saved Boeing, and that he really had no choice. But the deal fatally didn’t include job guarantees, and Boeing later drained away nearly 20,000 jobs. Plus the deal put the Machinists union in a vise, pressuring it into canceling worker pensions (as Boeing insisted on in addition to the tax breaks). Organized labor was still so mad at Inslee more than a year later that it uninvited him from its state convention.
Corporate breaks are if anything more radioactive to the left now than they were then. Imagine the mincemeat that, say, a Bernie Sanders could make of all this: “You signed the biggest corporate giveaway in history, and you lost the workers their pensions? That’s the kind of politician we’re trying to get out of the White House.”
Ouch. But expect anti-corporate fervor to be a staple of the Democratic primaries this time around.
I’m not saying Inslee shouldn’t run. Why not, everybody else is! Some have speculated he might do it solely to raise the profile of his signature issue, climate change. If so, he would be doing the nation a service.
But it’s going to be a tough slog for any politician, when your biggest accomplishment also happens to be your biggest political liability.