The Inslee Era and Washington’s Apostolic Succession


I feel a little bit “had” by the rapid-fire announcement that Gov. Jay Inslee is dropping his presidential bid and, next day, that he’s running for a third term. So, is that what this quixotic quest was all about? Are presidential campaigns by long shots really just positioning exercises and ways to build up donor lists?

Worse was the way the other candidates angling to become the next Democratic governor quickly furled their sails. That’s an indication of Inslee’s strong standing in state polls, and that the major interest groups for Democrats (unions, greens, minorities, public employees, social service agencies, tribes) remain lined up for a governor who fully embraces their positions (even if not effective enough to enact many of them). The Democratic Party in this state is now a fully mature machine of interest-group liberalism, powerful enough (thanks to the hapless Republicans) that it can dictate succession issues. Mature, if not over-ripe.

This quasi-machine would make it clear to an upstart that a challenger to J-Guv is going to read him or herself out of the party, find too few dollars, and basically slit their political throats. And so the chance to get a reinvigorated governor will have to wait four more years. Thus it was eight years ago when the power brokers cleared the field for Inslee, a reliable foot-soldier then tired of being a Congressman. Eight years before that, the apostolic succession went from Gov. Gary Locke to Attorney General Chris Gregoire. Before that, with the Mike Lowry meltdown, it was more of a scramble.

Three wild cards here. One is that Inslee shows clear signs of being tired of the state job, the usual indicators being a lusting for national positions like chairing the Democratic Governors’ Association or (of all things) a presidential race. For this reason, third terms are almost always a bad idea.

Second is the growing awareness that Inslee may be good at press conferences and at campaigning, but as the under-powered presidential campaign showed he’s really not much of a manager, except to keep happy the entrenched liberalism that has settled over the state like a November rain. It should be obvious by now that Inslee lacks administrative experience and is limited by his small cadre of advisers.

The third wild card is the sweeping anti-establishment mood in the country, which makes so-so, status-quo candidates that have been around a long time vulnerable to a fresh-voice challenger from the restive left. (I doubt the Republicans will find any kind of contender, given the fatal albatross of running with Trump heading the ticket.) I would keep an eye out for a movement minority candidate in the AOC mode such as Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal or Seattle City Councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez.

So the fix is in — maybe. Let me pose one more cynical theory. The powers-that-be may know or suspect that Inslee is going to take the best federal job offered to him (or, if Trump wins, a foundation job), so the governor’s office is soon going to be open after all. The rule of succession means the state’s lieutenant governor, now Cyrus Habib, assumes the office until the next general election, likely in 2021. Meanwhile, aspiring mainstream Democrats (AG Bob Ferguson, King County Exec Dow Constantine, Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz) must now keep in good odor with donors and supporters for the postponed gubernatorial primary. A protracted pseudo-campaign, in other words, much as we have had while Inslee has enjoyed his wonderful presidential adventure.

You have to admire the symmetry here. Inslee runs for president in order to run for governor. And then he sorta-runs for governor in order to ease the way for his successor. Ain’t democracy grand??

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. It’s great to see your fresh thoughts on the line again, David. Your location on Post Alley gives you long eyes. My perspective out in these distant hills has opened up a little.

    Counting What Counts

    Earth made this place perfect for us
    This landscape we’re connected to
    Has everything we needed
    Rocks and trees
    Lakes and rivers
    Animals swimming
    Flying, walking, slithering
    Our community of people
    Stars above
    All the spirits below and
    Here in the middle.
    This place gave us
    Our language and music
    Our songs and poems
    Stories and prayers,
    All of our feelings and
    She left out nothing.
    We’re one, not two,
    Forever a continuum
    Ordered but
    Not divided.
    And it makes me laugh and cry
    Like the coyotes in the canyon…
    That money doesn’t free us but kills us
    And every living thing it’s made from.

    Grant Jones
    Coyote Springs Farm
    July 4th, 2019

  2. If I were an ambitious young Democrat yearning to be governor but not ready to take on Jay Inslee, I reckon I would file to run for lieutenant governor in 2020. Cyrus Habib is hardly a household name and the office flies below the radar. But consider this: Inslee has made a huge name for himself in the field of climate change. If a Democrat is elected president it is not a far reach to imagine him as director of the EPA or even a climate czar to preside over a meaningful climate agenda. After two terms as governor, Inslee would be mightily tempted to end his political career with a job that might really be able to accomplish real change. And guess who steps into the governor’s office.

    • As for Inslee’s pledge to serve all four years, I think the public knows by now to take such pro-forma, pro-elect-me statements as worthless. You can’t be candid about such a thing, though there are ways of signaling a kind of candor (“never say never,” etc.). That whole press event, including the not-disappointed rivals, was a new low in phoniness.


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