The first presidential campaign launched from Washington state in more than 40 years is going to unveil our story to a national audience. Warts and all.
The Jay Inslee presidential campaign isn’t really selling Jay Inslee. He’s selling us.
“If America wants to see a Washington that works, look west,” the ever-upbeat governor said Friday, while launching the first major presidential campaign from here in more than 40 years.
It was a surprisingly strong kickoff for a candidacy that’s been registering at zero percent in the polls. The small but well-produced event at a south Seattle solar company highlighted that unlike some of the other presidential candidates, this one actually has a thing or two to talk about.
The first of course is climate change. Inslee vowed to “sound the bugle” about that issue nonstop, even after he lands in the White House. I don’t know if such a single-issue focus will work, but he no doubt means it — even the backdrop of his makeshift stage was made of solar panels.
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But the spotlight of a presidential run inevitably shines on the home state, especially when the candidate is a governor. To my ears, it was Inslee’s enthusiastic rolling of our state’s lefty credits that could make Democratic primary voters in other states give him a second look.
We are the state that finally took on the NRA — and won, Inslee boasted. We raised the minimum wage and put in one of the nation’s most generous family-leave plans. We ended the death penalty. We stood up to Trump to welcome more refugees than states many times our size.
You can debate how much credit Inslee deserves for all this. But in a national political campaign it scarcely matters. Every one of them is true, for starters. And for liberals, which Democratic primary voters overwhelmingly are, they combine to paint us as a sort of progressive miracle, a real-world validation of left-winginess shimmering out here on the far coast.
You know how Kansas is cited to show how the right’s tax-slashing, small-government principles don’t work? Well we’re the opposite of all that, Inslee says.
“I fully intend to promote Washington-state values and the success of our state to the nation,” he said after the speech.
But where it started to ring a little hollow was, awkwardly, in the Inslee campaign’s reason for being — his call to lead a national crusade on climate change.
“I have one pledge, one promise,” he said. “I will make fighting climate change the number-one priority of the United States of America.”
Except he hasn’t succeeded in making it the No. 1 priority of the state of Washington.
Climate-change politics can be uniquely hard and complex, and I give Inslee great credit for trying. But it’s also where he has the fewest credits to roll, particularly here at home.
There are the failures to pass a carbon tax or to cut emissions. Here’s a smaller, but telling, example. Lawmakers put a policy on the books 12 years ago that called on state government to electrify its own vehicle fleets. The idea was to begin the transition away from combustion engines, starting at the top. The goal, though not strictly mandatory, was to get to 100 percent renewable in the state fleet by now.
But recently a climate activist named Matthew Metz surveyed the fleets of state agencies and found that in fact just 2 percent of state agency vehicles are electric — only 152 cars out of more than 7,000.
“This is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit in the climate fight,” Metz says. “The story is they just didn’t make it a priority, so it didn’t happen. It’s very frustrating.”
Do failures like this, and the others we’ve been racking up lately in our supposedly green state, matter in the big picture? Maybe not. Given that the current president thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax, perhaps I’m nitpicking.
If Sunny Jay can shine a light on climate change on the national stage, that alone would be a public service. Remember way back in 2016, when the presidential debates didn’t include a single question about it?
But I left his kickoff with the sense that Inslee’s campaign, for better or worse, is now the story of our state, told to the nation. Everything is awesome. Just don’t look too closely.