Gov. Jay Inslee just won reelection to a third term, but speculation is swirling about whether he’ll be offered a top position in the administration of Joe Biden.
National news organizations have floated Inslee as a possible pick for secretary of Energy, secretary of the Interior, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or for the new position of White House climate czar.
A New York Times report Wednesday listed Inslee as under consideration for Energy secretary, citing deliberations by the Biden transition team. The report also said Inslee has been mentioned for Interior or the EPA.
In an email Wednesday, Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee said the governor “has not been contacted by the Biden transition team.”
Lee referred to past statements by the governor saying he wasn’t interested in a federal appointment.
While running for a third term, Inslee consistently downplayed the possibility he’d leave for another job. “I stay here,” he said last month. “Look, I can do great work on clean energy here. I love this state. So I’m not interested in those federal positions.”
Nevertheless, some progressive and environmental advocates have pushed for Inslee to be considered for either a Cabinet post or White House adviser.
Inslee has focused on clean energy and the hazards of climate change as governor, with mixed results.
His efforts to pass a carbon tax and a clean-fuels standard have been stymied by the Legislature, courts and voters. But he has won other climate measures, including a law eliminating fossil-fuel-generated electricity from Washington’s electric grid by 2045.
He bolstered his green credentials further during an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, making combating climate change his top issue.
“It’s not surprising he’d be on a shortlist for a [Biden administration] job,” said longtime Democratic political consultant Ron Dotzauer.
Despite Inslee’s pooh-poohing the idea he’d accept a position, Dotzauer said, “all of that changes when the president calls and offers you a job … He’s got to at least take it seriously.”
One of Inslee’s presidential-campaign advisers, Maggie Thomas, was tapped by the Biden transition team to join an agency-review team for the Department of Interior. Thomas is political director at Evergreen Action, an advocacy group formed by former Inslee political aides to push for aggressive action on climate change.
In selecting a Cabinet, Biden is facing competing pressures that could work for or against Inslee. He’s being pushed by progressives to hire a racially diverse and gender-balanced range of Cabinet officials who will pursue sweeping policies on climate and health care.
At the same time, Biden has signaled interest in appointing centrists — and perhaps even some Republicans — to try to heal political divisions and work with Republicans who still hold a majority in the U.S. Senate.
There are also plenty of rivals from states with more political clout who could edge out Inslee.
If Inslee were to resign, it would set off a tumble of political dominoes.
In the short term, Lt. Governor-elect Denny Heck would temporarily become governor.
An election would then be called to fill out the remainder of Inslee’s term. It would be held in 2021 if Inslee quit before that year’s May 15 candidate filing deadline, and in 2022 if he resigned later.
Heck has promised he would not run for a full term as governor in such a scenario. But other Democratic elected officials have made no secret of their ambitions, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
The list of Republican contenders is less clear, but could include ex-Congressman Dave Reichert, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, state House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox and Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
Seattle Times staff reporter Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report.