Governor Jay Inslee delivering State of the State address
Governor Jay Inslee delivers 2024 State of the State Address on January 9th, 2024 in Olympia (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Three-term Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee deliv­ered a State of the State address to a joint ses­sion of the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture today for the final time as Wash­ing­ton’s chief exec­u­tive, reflect­ing on his many accom­plish­ments in office and pledg­ing to be active until the very end of his tenure.

“This is my eleventh time address­ing this cham­ber, and I have a big­ger audi­ence each year,” said Inslee. “There are one mil­lion more Wash­ing­to­ni­ans today than when I took office, because Wash­ing­ton is the place to be. I wel­come our new Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who have seen the genius and promise of our state.”

“The min­i­mum wage was $9 in 2013 and today it’s over $16,” he con­tin­ued. “Wages over­all have grown by 39% — dou­ble the nation­al rate. Our GDP has grown 45% – from $528 bil­lion in 2013 to $768 bil­lion today. And we’re among the few states that rank as both a top state for busi­ness and for workers.”

“As we con­tem­plate this next year and the work ahead, I think back to my dad, who coached track at Sealth High School,” Inslee rem­i­nisced. “He told his run­ners to imag­ine the fin­ish line was ten yards beyond the fin­ish line. My father always said, and this is what sticks with me, ‘Fel­las, run through the tape!’ so they wouldn’t let up before the race was over. We are going to run through the tape this year. Just as I know you’ll give this state your best work, I’ll give mine.”

Inslee addressed the fol­low­ing top­ics in the speech:

  • The urgent need for cli­mate action
  • Rad­i­cal price trans­paren­cy for fos­sil fuels
  • Increas­ing K‑12 edu­ca­tion funding
  • Col­lege finan­cial aid and apprenticeships
  • The suc­cess of Wash­ing­ton’s paid fam­i­ly and med­ical leave program
  • Access to healthcare
  • Pro­vid­ing hous­ing to the homeless
  • Gun respon­si­bil­i­ty and the recent enact­ment of the assault weapons ban
  • Pub­lic safe­ty and the fen­tanyl crisis
  • Recruit­ing more police officers
  • Improv­ing behav­ioral health services
  • Help­ing Wash­ing­ton State Ferries
  • Advanc­ing social jus­tice by adopt­ing an equi­ty lens for pub­lic policy
  • Pro­tect­ing repro­duc­tive rights
  • Threats to Amer­i­can democracy

In atten­dance for the speech — which Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Den­ny Heck presided over, as is cus­tom — were the mem­bers of the House and Sen­ate, two-thirds of the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court, the rest of the exec­u­tive depart­ment (Bob Fer­gu­son, Steve Hobbs, Chris Reyk­dal, Pat McCarthy, Hilary Franz, Mike Pel­lic­ciot­ti, Mike Krei­dler), trib­al and local lead­ers, First Lady Tru­di Inslee, and mem­bers of the con­sular corps, with over a dozen nations represented.

Spe­cial guests were also present in the gal­leries, includ­ing for­mer Gov­er­nor Gary Locke, who went on to serve as Sec­re­tary of Com­merce and U.S. Ambas­sador to Chi­na (and lat­er as the inter­im pres­i­dent of Belle­vue Col­lege). How­ev­er, most of the guests Inslee rec­og­nized in his speech are peo­ple who could be called ordi­nary Wash­ing­to­ni­ans — folks who don’t have name ID or fan­cy titles.

Inslee asked each of them to stand after telling their stories.

The Wash­ing­to­ni­ans he named were:

  • Elisa Gar­cia, a farm­work­er in Top­pen­ish. “Her home was one of 32 in Yaki­ma Coun­ty that had rooftop solar installed, thanks to a state pro­gram specif­i­cal­ly geared toward farm­work­ers,” Inslee told leg­is­la­tors. “Her home now pro­duces 100% of its ener­gy from her own roof. Her family’s ener­gy bills are zero and it would not have been pos­si­ble with­out this Leg­is­la­ture. Elisa and her daugh­ter, Jas­min, are here with us today. Thank you, both.”
  • Bryan Ori­huela of Auburn. Bri­an “was going to be an engi­neer, but then he was in a trau­mat­ic car acci­dent, fol­lowed by high med­ical bills,” the gov­er­nor explained. “He had to leave col­lege. For­tu­nate­ly, he got con­nect­ed to Com­put­ing for All’s pre-appren­tice­ship pro­gram, which this Leg­is­la­ture helped sup­port with Career Con­nect Wash­ing­ton grants. Now he’s a devel­op­er at a men­tal health app, and Bryan is also here today. Bryan, thank you.”
  • Sheena and John Wil­son from Mount Ver­non. “Sheena’s hus­band John was diag­nosed with can­cer,” Inslee relayed. “Sheena expect­ed their health costs would go up to $3,000 a month, until she accessed the ben­e­fits of our Cas­cade Care pub­lic option. Her fam­i­ly now pays $108 a month and the most they’ll pay out-of-pock­et this year for her husband’s can­cer treat­ment is $2,500 total. John and Sheena are here with us today from Mount Ver­non. Thank you both and good luck, too.”
  • Starr Drap­er from Seat­tle. “This time last year a woman named Starr Drap­er found her­self in a right-of-way encamp­ment at First Avenue and Michi­gan Street in Seat­tle,” said Inslee. “No one can live in dan­ger and expect their con­di­tions to improve. No one can be swept from one dark cor­ner to anoth­er and expect life to get bet­ter. We must lift peo­ple up and give them the tools, the ser­vices and the pow­er of com­mu­ni­ty nec­es­sary to get life on track. State and local col­lab­o­ra­tion got Starr on her jour­ney to well­ness. Starr said this pro­gram, quote, ‘renewed my trust.’ She’s got work, she’s got a safe, pri­vate place to live, and Starr is here today. Thank you for inspir­ing us.”
  • Clau­dia Fuentes from Pas­co. “We’re joined today by the Pas­co Police Department’s own Clau­dia Fuentes,” said Inslee. “Clau­dia would not be a police offi­cer today if this Leg­is­la­ture had not invest­ed in more Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Train­ing Cen­ters like in Pas­co. It was impos­si­ble for a par­ent to spend four and a half months away from home for train­ing in Burien. But because we invest­ed in these train­ing cen­ters, Offi­cer Fuentes got to go home from the acad­e­my every night. And because she had this resource, the peo­ple of Pas­co are safer. Thank you, Claudia.”
  • Holle Edwards from the Swinomish trib­al com­mu­ni­ty. “We’re going to sup­port peo­ple with sto­ries like Holle Edwards, a mem­ber of the Swinomish Tribe whose life lan­guished in addic­tion to meth and hero­in before she got help at local resource cen­ters,” said Inslee. “Holle got her life back — and she’s now a recov­ery coun­selor help­ing peo­ple on the same jour­ney at a well­ness cen­ter in Ana­cortes. Holle is here today.”

It’s always nice to see poli­cies con­nect­ed to peo­ple, and Gov­er­nor Inslee did that in spades with his 2024 State of the State remarks. He did­n’t just rely on soar­ing rhetoric to car­ry the speech — he told the sto­ries of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who have been helped by new state laws passed by Wash­ing­ton’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic majorities.

It made his address more mem­o­rable and resonant.

I pho­tographed the spe­cial guests as they each stood with a tele­pho­to lens, and it was love­ly to see them beam­ing as the law­mak­ers down below applaud­ed them.

The gov­er­nor con­clud­ed his address by opti­misti­cal­ly look­ing to the future.

“When I took office, we had auda­cious goals that defied the odds to become real­i­ty. I had con­fi­dence we could tack­le these chal­lenges because I’ve always believed in the unique tal­ent and ambi­tions of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans,” said Inslee.

“Wash­ing­to­ni­ans have more resilience, more love for our state, and more endurance to push toward the sun­ny uplands of the future than any oth­er peo­ple on the plan­et. The next two months, we’re going to make this state bet­ter at men­tal health, safer against opi­oids, more sup­port­ive for edu­ca­tors and stu­dents, and more com­mit­ted to our climate.”

“We’ve made hope for the future pos­si­ble because Wash­ing­to­ni­ans are nev­er restrict­ed by the past or the bog of the sta­tus quo.”

Inslee did not bring up Bri­an Hey­wood and Jim Wal­sh’s six destruc­tive ini­tia­tives, though in many ways, his address felt like a rebut­tal of the com­ments Hey­wood and Walsh have been mak­ing over the past six weeks as they turned in sig­na­tures for I‑2117, I‑2109, I‑2081, I‑2111, I‑2113, and I‑2124 — all ini­tia­tives that seek to part­ly or total­ly roll back key laws that Inslee has signed in the last four years.

For instance, on cli­mate, Inslee said: “We will not relent to our great­est chal­lenges. We will not go back­ward. This is the Ever­green State and the Ever For­ward State. And we’re going ever for­ward on our ever­green agenda.”

“Cli­mate change is our present, but cli­mate col­lapse does not have to be inevitable. This Leg­is­la­ture put us on a clear — and nec­es­sary — path to slash green­house gas­es 95% by 2050. We will stay the course. Any delay would be a betray­al of our children’s future. We are on the razor’s edge between promise and peril.”

With­in the cham­ber, Wash­ing­ton State’s Repub­li­can minor­i­ty lis­tened polite­ly and did not inter­rupt or heck­le the gov­er­nor, in sharp con­trast to how House Repub­li­cans have treat­ed Pres­i­dent Joe Biden dur­ing State of the Union address­es. Online, how­ev­er, Repub­li­cans respond­ed with negativity.

“Crime and the cost of liv­ing con­tin­ues to sky­rock­et in Wash­ing­ton,” a tweet from the Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus began. “The fen­tanyl cri­sis wors­ens, many stu­dents are fail­ing in school, our fer­ry sys­tem is bro­ken, and home­less camps remain chron­ic. And yet, Gov­er­nor Inslee calls our state ‘a bea­con of progress.’ Wash­ing­to­ni­ans deserve bet­ter.” Tacked onto the tweet were a bunch of hash­tags Repub­li­cans love to use: #Unsafe­WA, #Unaf­ford­able­WA, #Unac­count­able­WA.

Mean­while, House Repub­li­cans put up this video, laden with stock images:

As men­tioned above, Gov­er­nor Inslee raised the top­ics Repub­li­cans are grip­ing about dur­ing his speech. He talked about edu­ca­tion, he talked about fix­ing the fer­ries, he talked about get­ting peo­ple out of home­less encamp­ments and into hous­ing, he talked about deal­ing with the fen­tanyl cri­sis. His speech both cel­e­brat­ed progress that Wash­ing­ton has made while call­ing for more action across a range of issues. It did not ignore the state’s chal­lenges at all.

Repub­li­cans were part of some of the accom­plish­ments that Inslee spoke of — paid fam­i­ly and med­ical leave was a bipar­ti­san accom­plish­ment, for example.

Yet, rather than join­ing Inslee in offer­ing a bal­anced assess­ment of where Wash­ing­ton stands, they con­sis­tent­ly take a glass half emp­ty view, fail­ing to appre­ci­ate that there are two sides to every equa­tion. But per­haps this behav­ior is to be expect­ed. Their base is unhap­py with Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nance and unhap­py with the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s repeat­ed elec­toral fail­ures over the past few cycles.

In a strik­ing moment dur­ing the speech, Repub­li­cans sat stone-faced and did not applaud when Inslee called for a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to pro­tect repro­duc­tive free­dom. (The rest of the cham­ber gave Inslee a stand­ing ova­tion, includ­ing the gal­leries.) Repub­li­can votes would be required to send such an amend­ment to vot­ers, and they have zero inter­est in sup­port­ing one. There are no Repub­li­cans who favor repro­duc­tive rights on either side of the rotun­da anymore.

Aside from Dan Evans and Arthur Lan­glie — both Repub­li­cans from eras when pro­gres­sives were wel­come in the Repub­li­can Par­ty — no one has served as Gov­er­nor of Wash­ing­ton State for longer than Jay Inslee has. He is just the third per­son, after the two of them, to have been elect­ed to the posi­tion thrice, win­ning by a big­ger mar­gin each time. Inslee is also cur­rent­ly the gov­er­nor with the most senior­i­ty. No oth­er cur­rent­ly serv­ing state gov­er­nor has been in office for longer.

Inslee will leave office next Jan­u­ary. He has pledged to remain active after his tenure comes to an end. But he’s still got one more year to go, and he has no inten­tion of being a lame duck. “Run through the tape” is his mantra for these final twelve months, includ­ing the remain­der of the short leg­isla­tive ses­sion and the com­ing cam­paign to defeat Bri­an Hey­wood and Jim Wal­sh’s initiatives.

Know­ing Gov­er­nor Inslee, this isn’t just lofty talk. He means it and will be work­ing every day to secure as many more accom­plish­ments as he can before turn­ing over the gov­er­nor’s man­sion to his suc­ces­sor in Jan­u­ary of 2025.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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