Jay Inslee announced Thursday he will seek a third term as Washington’s governor, hours after ending his longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Inslee made the announcement in an email blast to supporters, saying he wants to “continue to stand with you in opposing Donald Trump and rejecting his hurtful and divisive agenda.”
He’ll be the first Washington governor in nearly 50 years to seek a third term.
“Our state has made such incredible progress the last six-and-a-half years and I believe we have a brighter future ahead of us, “Inslee said at a news conference in Seattle Thursday morning. “But the progress we’ve made we just need to continue, in education, in health care, in transportation, in the environment, in protecting our civil rights from Donald Trump.”
Inslee, who’s been mentioned as a possible Cabinet secretary should Democrats retake the White House in 2020, pledged to turn down such an offer if he’s reelected.
“Yes, that’s my intention and that’s what I would do,” Inslee said when asked if he would serve a full four-year term if reelected. “There was one position in Washington, D.C., that I thought I was interested in and I will not be serving in that capacity.”
Inslee’s choice to run again led to immediate announcements from three Democrats who had all hinted at gubernatorial campaigns, but only if Inslee opted out. Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz both said Thursday that they would run for reelection rather than challenge Inslee. King County Executive Dow Constantine said he wasn’t planning on challenging Inslee and would “continue preparing for a reelection bid.”
Inslee pointed to a list of legislative accomplishments from his first two terms and said he’s eager to build on that success.
He touted Washington’s fast-growing economy, steps to create a public health insurance option and increases in teacher pay — implemented to remedy the long-running McCleary lawsuit. He noted the hike in Washington’s minimum wage and new policies guaranteeing sick leave and paid family leave for workers.
But the governor’s tenure has also been marked by problems across Washington’s social-service programs, intended to help the state’s most vulnerable.
The Inslee administration has struggled to repair the state’s mental-health system, which has faced a variety of court orders and federal inspection findings criticizing safety conditions and the treatment of those being held.
Those culminated in last year’s decertification by regulators of Western State Hospital, Washington’s largest psychiatric facility, which cost $53 million in annual federal funding.
Lawmakers and Inslee this year approved an ambitious plan to reshape mental-health treatment by shifting away from Western State Hospital and building community treatment beds across Washington. But achieving that goal will take years — and likely more effort by legislators and the next governor.
A former congressman from Bainbridge Island who was elected Washington’s governor in 2012 and 2016, Inslee labored to gain traction in a presidential bid that focused almost solely on fighting climate change.
The run allowed him — during national TV interviews and a few minutes’ speaking time in debates — to bring wider attention to the issue that has been his passion, and to display his contempt for the presidency of Donald Trump when it came to issues such as immigration and race.
In the first debate of the primary season, Inslee collected cheers from the live audience, if not lasting national attention, when he said, “The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump.”
Inslee’s campaign attracted more than 130,000 separate donors, surpassing a threshold set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to qualify for the third televised debate next month. But he was never close to the DNC’s other threshold — 2% support in early polls.
As he struggled to break through among about two dozen Democratic presidential candidates, Inslee never ruled out a third term back home. That left several Democratic politicians in the state with higher ambitions in limbo.
The Washington State Republican Party has slammed Inslee for not reimbursing Washington for the security detail he used during his out-of-state campaign travel, as well as being away for much of the year.
GOP party Chairman Caleb Heimlich re-upped those criticisms, calling Inslee a “failed governor and failed presidential candidate.”
“Come 2020, Washington voters will have a choice between the condescending, demeaning attitude we’ve seen from Inslee and his fellow Democrats or the commonsense, voter-approved agenda from Republicans that puts people first,” Heimlich said.
So far, the most high-profile Republican campaigning for governor is state Sen. Phil Fortunato of Auburn. Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic in Ferry County, has also announced as a Republican, and Anton Sakharov has filed as a Republican to raise money for a bid.
No Republican has won a race for Washington governor since John Spellman in 1980. The last governor to win a third term in the state was Republican Gov. Dan Evans, in 1972.
State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said she was “thrilled” that Inslee was seeking a third term and is “confident the governor will win reelection.”
Inslee’s announcement upended the aspirations of a slew of Democratic politicians eyeing higher office.
Constantine and Ferguson appeared with Inslee Thursday at an event at Planned Parenthood in Seattle.
Constantine joked about the predicament that Inslee’s plans have left him in — eyeing a higher office, but loathe to challenge a popular incumbent whom he’s friendly with.
“I’m looking forward to finally starting that book club that Hilary Franz, Bob Ferguson and I have been talking about,” he said via Twitter.
Ferguson said he supports Inslee’s reelection and would run for a third term as attorney general and that he was not disappointed by the turn of events.
Meanwhile, state Solicitor General Noah Purcell, Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, and Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, had expressed interest in running for attorney general should Ferguson launch a gubernatorial bid. Purcell and Gonzalez both announced Thursday that they would continue in their positions rather than challenge Ferguson.
Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, eyed running for lands commissioner if Franz ran for governor.
Inslee’s move comes as Democrats adjust to governing with large majorities in the Washington Legislature for the first time in years, as well as the first new House Speaker in a generation, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.