Six months ago, when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced he would run for president, he set down the first in what became an elaborate line of dominoes branching and meandering through the Washington political world.
If Inslee were running for president, then lower-ranking statewide officials would run for governor and so would the leader of the state’s largest county. Then their positions would open up, so a whole slew of other officials queued up to run for those spots.
But nobody knocked down that first domino.
And now the Washington political landscape, which had been set up for a radical reformation, looks like it could be largely frozen in place for the next four years.
With Inslee’s announcement Thursday that he will seek a third term as governor — the first time anyone’s done that in nearly half a century — several of the state’s leading Democrats put their personal ambitions on hold and stepped into line behind him. Democrats have dominated statewide offices for years — they’ve held the governor’s office for the last 35 years and currently hold eight of 10 statewide elected partisan positions.
Inslee not only announced his run for reelection, he also, temporarily, squelched speculation that he wanted to serve in a Cabinet position, should Democrats retake the White House in 2020.
“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 he is 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.”
He said his reelection campaign would focus on continuing the “incredible progress” that the state has made since his first election in 2012.
State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski said she was thrilled that Inslee would run again and was confident he would win another term.
Three prominent Democrats who had all expressed interest in running for governor over the last several months all said shortly after Inslee’s announcement that they would not challenge the governor — or didn’t plan on it.
“Jay Inslee has been a leader in tackling one of the biggest threats we face, climate change, and that’s why I support his reelection for governor,” state Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said in a prepared statement, simultaneously announcing she would seek a second term in her position.
“I’m not planning on running against Gov. Inslee,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. He said he was preparing for a 2021 reelection campaign, for what would be his fourth term, and “I’ll make that decision and announcement when the time comes.” He also expressed modest disappointment that his higher political aspirations are now on hold.
“Of course I was looking forward to the opportunity to get out there and debate Washington’s future with my colleagues, but we are doing a ton of important work here at home in King County,” Constantine said.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he was neither disappointed nor surprised by Inslee’s decision and that the governor had told him months ago that he would likely run for a third term if his presidential push stalled out. Ferguson said he would seek a third term as attorney general.
“There’s no part of me that’s disappointed at all,” he said about not running for governor. “You need to have a reason for it, right, beyond one’s ambition to have that position. I don’t have that with Gov. Inslee. I support his work completely, I think he’s been a great governor. Beyond that, he’s someone I enjoy being with. I just wouldn’t run against a friend, I don’t want the job that bad.”
The reluctance of those three would-be gubernatorial aspirants, has, in turn, stalled the ambitions of other officials who sought their offices.
Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, had announced interest in a run for attorney general — but only if Ferguson didn’t run again.
Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González announced a provisional run for attorney general just two weeks ago, complete with a splashy campaign launch video. She said Thursday that she supports Inslee and Ferguson and will continue on the City Council rather than run statewide.
State Sen. Christine Rolfes announced in June that she was looking to run for public lands commissioner. But there was a caveat. “I am not running against Hilary Franz, who I think the world of,” Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said at the time.
The state Republican Party was much less reticent than Inslee’s Democratic colleagues.
GOP party Chairman Caleb Heimlich on Thursday called 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 common-sense, voter-approved agenda from Republicans that puts people first,” Heimlich said.
The most prominent Republican running for governor is state Sen. Phil Fortunato, an outspoken conservative from Auburn who once ripped up a pocket Constitution on the Senate floor to make a point. He launched his campaign outside Seattle City Hall earlier this month, intending to spotlight the city’s homelessness crisis, especially what he calls the “criminal homeless.”
Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic in Ferry County, and project manager Anton Sakharov have also filed as Republicans. Culp made headlines for declaring that he wouldn’t enforce the new gun restrictions passed by state voters last year.
Inslee, who announced his candidacy the day after he dropped his climate-focused presidential campaign, pointed to a list of legislative accomplishments from the last several years, including a broad package to reduce carbon emissions, increases in teacher pay and new policies guaranteeing sick leave and paid family leave for workers.
But his administration has also been marked by problems across Washington’s social-service programs, including struggles 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.
Thursday’s events appeared to guarantee that, despite those issues, Inslee won’t face a significant challenge from his own party as he seeks a third term.
Constantine joked about the predicament.
“Bob and I are starting a book club, along with Hilary, it’s going to be awesome,” he said. What would they be reading? Well, Inslee’s book on clean energy, of course.
“Apollo’s Fire,” he said. “Obviously.”