Tomorrow, after returning to the Evergreen State from the east coast, Jay Inslee is expected to announce that he will seek a third term as Washington’s Governor next year, having pulled the plug on his climate-focused presidential campaign.
If Inslee makes his 2020 gubernatorial campaign official, he will be the first incumbent chief executive in almost fifty years to seek a third term.
Washington’s last three term governor was Republican Daniel J. Evans, a true Cascadian living legend if ever there was one. Evans headed the state’s executive department for twelve years, for 1965 to 1977. Working with the Legislature, Evans twice secured House and Senate passage of a constitutional amendment that would have explicitly permitted Washington to levy an income tax.
Voters rejected both proposals despite remaining fond of Evans. He went on to serve as Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson’s successor in the United States Senate for six years. Appointed to the post by his successor, Governor John Spellman, he was retained by the voters in a 1983 special election, defeating Democratic opponent Mike Lowry, who would later go on to serve as Governor in the 1990s.
Jay Inslee is now hoping to replicate Evans’ feat of winning three successive gubernatorial elections. To pull it off, he’ll have to unify the Democratic Party in support of his candidacy (which ought not to be too difficult) and dispatch whoever ends up being his Republican rival — which he was able to do in 2012 when he defeated Rob McKenna and again in 2016 when he beat Bill Bryant.
People close to Inslee have told The Associated Press that he’s seeking a third term. Official confirmation is expected tomorrow; Inslee himself told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow he will make a statement tomorrow about his next steps, upon having returned to Washington from New York.
Inslee has already reached out to the three Democratic elected leaders who have been openly mulling gubernatorial bids for 2020 to give them each a heads up about his plans: King County Executive Dow Constantine, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Both Constantine and Franz confirmed to The Seattle Times that Inslee had spoken with them; the newspaper was unable to reach Ferguson. Appropriately, neither Constantine nor Franz would comment about what Inslee’s plans are.
But it’s pretty evident that Inslee is going for a third term.
And it’s a sensible, defensible move for a host of reasons.
Inslee has the potential to accomplish much more as Governor of Washington State if he secures another four years because he could regain time that was lost due to several years of legislative gridlock produced by divided government.
Legislatively speaking, Inslee’s first term was pretty much sabotaged by the treachery of turncoat Rodney Tom, who engineered a Republican takeover of the Washington State Senate in the weeks following Inslee’s first gubernatorial victory.
Voters had elected a Democratic Senate in addition to Inslee; but Tom conspired with fellow turncoat Tim Sheldon to deliver the chamber into Republican hands.
Sheldon, meanwhile, was slated to become President Pro Tempore, but Democrats foiled that plan by backing the incredibly obnoxious Pam Roach for the position instead, as a means of punishing Sheldon for his treachery.
Following Tom and Sheldon’s coup, Republicans remained in control of the Senate for five years, using their majority to turn the chamber into a graveyard of progress. Their stranglehold was broken in 2017 when Democratic phenomenon Manka Dhingra (a member of the board of NPI’s sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation) won a special election in the 45th District, turning the chamber blue.
Dhingra’s victory finally gave Inslee the slim Democratic Senate majority he ought to have started out his governorship with — one year into his second term.
The result was a resounding series of legislative victories for progressive ideas.
Last year, in the 2018 midterms, voters expanded the Democratic Senate majority from twenty-five seats to twenty-eight, while enlarging the party’s House majority from fifty to fifty-seven. Those wins paved the way for a 2019 legislative session full of climate action and environmental justice wins championed by Inslee.
Having now experienced what it’s like to work with cooperative Democratic majorities for two consecutive sessions, Inslee is no doubt hungry for more opportunities to make progress on a multitude of fronts. A third term might net him as many as four more legislative sessions with Democratic majorities.
And with Laurie Jinkins taking over as Speaker of the House of Representatives this January, Inslee will soon have a new legislative partner who is supportive of more of his priorities (like the abolition of the death penalty) than Frank Chopp was.
Inslee’s reported decision to seek another term could also help the Washington State Democratic Party focus on expanding its majorities and flipping the two seats in the executive department that it doesn’t control (Secretary of State and Treasurer). Without Inslee at the top of the ticket, there likely would be a contested Democratic race for Governor, setting up contested Democratic races for Attorney General and possibly one for Commissioner of Public Lands.
And that, in turn, would have led to open seats on both sides of the rotunda, with Democratic legislators running for statewide office instead of pursuing reelection.
Now it appears that realignment may be pushed out to the 2024 cycle, allowing the Washington State Democratic Party to focus on its offensive priorities, including the aforementioned state-level pickup opportunities as well as the 3rd Congressional District, which the party believes can be flipped.
Given that the other Washington is presently the site of an unprecedented, frightening political drama starring a narcissistic, neofascist sociopath named Donald Trump, there’s arguably a real benefit to postponing the row of falling dominoes that would be triggered by Inslee’s exit from state politics.
That line of thinking, stated at greater length, goes something like this: If we can’t have stability in the other Washington, at least we can enjoy it here. Why change horses midstream when we have sound leadership already? Under Jay Inslee, Washington has been rated the best state in the country. We’re Number One!
And, if Inslee remains governor, then at least one state in the country will be led by someone who is willing to make tackling the climate crisis their top priority.
2020 was already going to be high stakes battle for the future of the United States as a whole. Washington will not be a battleground state; but big picture minded Washingtonians may want to do work in states that are battlegrounds.
It will undoubtedly be easier for Washingtonians to export time, talent, and treasure to places where they could affect the trajectory of the entire country if the in-state political landscape remains stable through the 2020 election cycle.