Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday put a positive spin on a national transition from fossil fuels to clean power as he made his first foray into Iowa since launching his presidential candidacy.
AMES, Iowa — Making his first foray into Iowa since launching his presidential candidacy, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday put a positive spin on a national transition from fossil fuels to clean power and contended it can be a winning message in states where Democrats have struggled.
Fresh off a round of media interviews in New York, Inslee spent the frigid day ogling solar panels in Cedar Rapids, speaking to students at Iowa State University and meeting with climate activists in Des Moines. His Iowa swing was the start of an effort to introduce himself to voters who will participate in the first-in-the-nation caucuses next year.
“This is a heartland message that can win in the Midwest,” Inslee told a few dozen students and activists at the university, repeating his decades-long emphasis on clean energy as a jobs program.
As he’s usually done, Inslee downplayed any economic pains, when a student asked what sacrifices Americans should be prepared to make to cut carbon emissions.
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“I do not believe this is a sacrifice,” Inslee said, calling it a matter of survival for humanity and pointing to the costs of inaction, citing damage to Washington’s fishing industry and last summer’s smoke-choked air quality as a precursor of what will be wrought by unchecked global warming.
Inslee acknowledged that some old fossil fuel-based industries would have to be phased out.
“If we burn all that coal, the planet’s going to cook,” he said, “but we’re going to have a lot of jobs to replace that,” saying the fastest growing jobs in the nation are for solar-panel installers.
Inslee’s Iowa trip came at about the midpoint of the 2019 legislative session back in his home state, and his increasing out-of-state travel has come under scrutiny and some criticism. While costs for his own flights and hotels are covered by his campaign funds, a taxpayer-funded Washington State Patrol detail accompanies him on trips, piling up overtime and other expenses.
The patrol has asked for a $1.3 million budget increase for its Executive Protection Unit, largely because of the governor’s travel schedule.
Asked Tuesday whether he would consider reimbursing the state for those costs now that his campaign has announced raising more than $1 million in its early days, Inslee said no.
“This is a state law or obligation that security is provided, has historically been provided for any governor for all of their travels under any circumstances. I am not going to propose a change in that policy,” he said.
Starting as an underdog in polls that have had him at zero or 1 percent support, Inslee faces plenty of competition for attention in Iowa.
Declared 2020 Democratic candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Peter Buttigieg held their own events in the state in recent days. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, reportedly considering a run, was in Iowa on Tuesday. And Sen. Bernie Sanders plans three rallies later this week that are expected to draw thousands, according to The Des Moines Register.
Inslee, who frequently mentions his decades-long focus on climate, dating back to his time in Congress, is seeking to distinguish himself from that pack by noting he’s the only candidate running to make fighting climate change the No. 1 priority of the nation.
Some students who heard Inslee’s optimistic tune said they liked what he said, though they were not decided on who they would support in 2020.
“I’m still trying to see who is the best,” said Lilian Juma, a second-year architecture student who asked Inslee what he’d do to support sustainable building. After the event, Inslee said he wanted to invite her to visit Seattle to see the Bullitt Center, a commercial office tower billed as the greenest in the world.
Juma said while climate is a top concern, as a south Sudanese immigrant she is also extremely worried about the Trump administration’s immigration crackdowns.
Vivian Cook, a senior studying performance arts, said she agrees with Inslee’s emphasis on climate change as the most important problem facing the nation. But she said she would like to have heard more frankness about how people’s lives will have to change.
“I wish he would have talked about sacrifice more. All of us are going to have to sacrifice a lot,” she said, including changes to industrial agriculture.
In between questions about climate, Inslee also took shots at President Donald Trump for his climate-change denial, telling the students “there is 10 thousand more IQ points in this room, I can tell you, than exists in the White House.”
Earlier in the day, Inslee toured Paulson Electric Company in Cedar Rapids, leading a media tour to the roof of firm’s warehouse and posing for cameras with an array of solar panels partly shrouded in snow.
“I’m really excited to learn about this — you guys are rocking the world,” Inslee told one employee as he began his tour.
Tyler Olson, the company’s CEO, said his firm’s solar-panel-installation work is its fastest growing line of business — about 20 percent of its work now. The firm employs 125 people, including unionized electricians who can earn $50 an hour as journeymen.
Olson told Inslee that solar-installation costs have come down substantially in the past decade, making it an attractive option for all kinds of businesses looking to cut energy costs.
“To have a national policy you worked on would be great for jobs across the country,” Olson told Inslee as he showed the governor one of the panels the company installs, as a small group of reporters looked on.
Inslee nodded: “To me it’s all about jobs.”
Scheduled to return to Washington state on Wednesday, Inslee will soon hit the road again, traveling to Nevada and California starting this weekend.