Rep. Jay Inslee's case for quitting Congress to campaign for governor full time doesn't add up.
A few weeks back, when a top Democratic strategist was asked whether Jay Inslee ought to quit Congress to jump start his run for governor, the advice was: Don’t do it.
Quitting is weak, he said.
Said Paul Berendt, a former state Democratic chairman: “People expect you to stick with your commitments.”
Now how quaint is that?
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Because when Inslee announced Saturday he not only was quitting (as of next Tuesday), but doing it in a way that forces his congressional seat to sit vacant for the next nine months, the general reaction seemed to be: Oh well. It’s just Congress.
“We all know Congress is gridlocked and not much is happening there,” said Dwight Pelz, the current state Democratic Party chairman.
Shrugged The Herald in Everett, in an editorial that actually praised Inslee for quitting: “As to missing votes in the (U.S.) House, few if any crucial ones remain this year.”
Even Inslee — who every time I’ve seen him in the past dozen years has spoken of the vital work he’s doing in Congress — now says it won’t make much difference if he’s there or not.
“My people are still going to be represented well by Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray,” Inslee said.
Oh. Wouldn’t that have been just as true for the past decade?
I’m not one of those “winners never quit, quitters never win” moralizers. Quitting can be a gray area.
Take the Afghanistan War. It’s possible the best way to avoid a partial win there becoming a deepening loss may be, counterintuitively, to cut and run.
But the only “deepening loss” Inslee is trying to avoid is to his own political prospects.
Plus, there’s how he quit. Had he done it a week sooner, there would have been a special election to get someone to serve out his term.
Tactically, though, Democrats were worried they might lose (because they have so many candidates). So, the 1st Congressional District now won’t be represented by anyone until Jan. 3, 2013.
Does that matter? It sure could. Despite what The Herald says, there are plenty of crucial votes coming up in Congress. One is as big as it gets: war.
Last spring, the U.S. House came within six votes of pulling the troops out of Afghanistan. Inslee was among those voting to bring them home — along with 25 Republicans.
There will be another vote this spring. With support for the longest war in U.S. history plummeting, that vote is likely to be closer still.
One of Inslee’s colleagues, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., of the Armed Services Committee, said in a speech to the House recently that getting the U.S. out of this quagmire was as important as anything else the members could do.
“It’s us, the 435 members of this body, the United States Congress, that can choose when this war ends,” he implored them.
That’d be 434 now.
I get the political calculus of quitting. Inslee wants to shake up the governor’s race. He would have been absent a lot from Congress anyway. Plus many of his constituents seem OK with it, at least based on the 200 or so mostly supportive comments on his Facebook page.
“Inslee’s focus belongs here,” was the title of that Herald editorial.
But I side with that quaint notion about sticking to commitments. That matters more.
I know how strongly Inslee feels about ending the war. He may yet be governor. But when he’s not there for the upcoming war votes — and because of his maneuverings, the district doesn’t get any say on the war at all — I bet he’s going to feel about 3 inches tall.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.